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We often take our heating and cooling units for granted. The furnace is tucked away in the basement, and the central air conditioner hums away outside. We assume these units will work season after season, year after year — and they will, as long as we do a bit of maintenance.
While some tasks will require the help of heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) professionals, there are other tasks that every homeowner can complete to help keep your A/C unit operating smoothly and efficiently.
Here are the six steps to take to prepare your central A/C unit for winter:
Step 1: Turn off the power to the unit. This may seem obvious, but it’s vital to make sure that no one gets hurt. Typically, central A/C unit power supplies are located in an exterior power circuit box mounted to the side of your home. Lift the cover on this box and slip the switch to the ‘off’ position. Remember to close the lid. While turning the power off will prevent serious injury, it also prevents the unit from accidentally turning on because someone pressed the wrong function on the thermostat, or from turning on during an unseasonably warm winter day.
Step 2: Clean the A/C unit. Use a broom and sweep off the leaves and other debris away from the unit. Then use your garden hose to wash off any dirt that has accumulated on the unit. This prevents the A/C from getting clogged and breaking down when you go to use it again the following summer. Remember to let the unit dry completely before moving on to the next step.
Step 3: Inspect the A/C unit. Now that the unit is clean, it’s time to inspect the unit for any damage. Look for cracks and rust or any other irregularities. Also, check seals for cracks or leaks. If you find an area of trouble, call in an HVAC professional. While these problems may seem small, they can lead to significant problems in the future if not fixed.
Step 4: Cover the A/C unit. Place a waterproof vinyl or plastic cover over the unit. Not only does this protect it from the elements, but it also insulates it, which prevents the metal and plastic and other parts on the unit from cracking. You can purchase covers made specifically for A/C units at your local hardware store or use a waterproof tarp secured with bungee cords.
Step 5: Add extra insulation. To protect the unit’s exposed pipes and wiring, use foam pipe covers. To help keep the foam wrapping in place, use duct tape. This simple step helps to keep wires and the fluid inside the pipes from freezing, which prevents cracked pipes and frayed wires.
Step 6: Check on the unit periodically. Take a peek at the air conditioner unit occasionally. You want to confirm that no debris has collected under the cover, and that no animals have begun to use it as a shelter. Remove water, snow and ice that accumulates on the top of the cover, as the weight can potentially damage the unit.
For homeowners with window A/C units, you’ll need to remove and store your unit properly over the winter. If you don’t, you unnecessarily expose the unit and your room to freezing temperatures as well as rain and snow, all of which can damage your unit (and your home). Plus drive up the costs due to your furnace working to heat the inside.
Professionals suggest removing window A/C units when the temperatures reach 15°C (60°F) or less on a regular basis.
To properly remove the unit, put towels underneath and then unplug it. Carefully lift the unit out of the window and place it on the towels. Remove the mesh filter and clean it using warm, soapy water and a splash of bleach (to remove any mold spores). Now, wipe the condenser coils and empty and wipe the water pan before wiping the entire exterior of the unit.
Once complete, store the unit in an upright position in a utility room or basement, or someplace where it won’t be disturbed or damaged.
While it’s best to have your central air conditioning unit serviced once every few years, you still need to maintain the portable unit through proper maintenance and winter storage. Do this, and you won’t have to fork out good money to replace a broken unit come springtime.
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