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Taking Care of Business: Cleaning & Protecting an Outside AC Unit

Why I Should Clean My Outside AC Unit

outside ac unitOut of sight, out of mind. This saying has become a cliche for a reason. It’s just human nature. When people, objects, and problems are not in our direct line of sight, we’re more likely to forget they need our care and attention. Sadly, this is the fate of many an outside air conditioning unit.

In order to keep any sort of machine, engine, or mechanical device functioning at its highest efficiency, you’ll have to give it regular care and attention.

Routine maintenance doesn’t just keep systems from breaking down as quickly.

Routine maintenance helps assets and equipment working in optimal conditions, leading to fewer failures, better productivity, higher profitability, and improved safety.

This is true of things like your computer (run a virus scan!), your car (change the oil and top off fluids!), and it’s also true of your AC unit. This is of special note if your home has a Heating, Ventilating, and Air-Conditioning system (HVAC). It simply works better when it’s kept in good condition!

If you’re not familiar with the term, an HVAC system includes either a furnace and AC or a heat pump. Both types will have both interior and exterior units. Today we’re talking about the outdoor unit, which includes a condenser coil and a compressor.

Because this section of your HVAC unit is exposed to the elements year-round, it’s only natural that it will require periodic cleanings to keep dirt, dust, grime, and mold from building up. In addition, units can be affected by nearby trees, bushes, shrubs, and grasses–not to mention small animals.

Routine cleanings help you stay on top of what’s going on with your outside AC unit and keep small problems from building to major ones over time.

Fortunately, a “routine” cleaning need only take place once every year, and it’s not very labor-intensive.

When it comes to AC maintenance, a little really does go a long way!

How to Clean my Outside AC Unit

To clean your outside AC unit, you’ll want to set aside at least an hour. If you’re cleaning your unit in summer, consider early morning or late evening to avoid the heat of the day.

Step 1: Shut It Down

Be sure both to turn off the air conditioner at the thermostat and shut off the power to the condenser itself. Either unplug the unit or turn the power off at the breaker.

Step 2: Glove Up

After donning work gloves, remove any debris from in or around the unit. (We say “in or around” because we’ve seen small twigs and branches grow directly into units. It’s a whole thing.)

Step 3: Brush It

Using a small brush, clean the outer fins. Here, you’ll mostly be encountering dried leaves, foliage, and dead insects. A toothbrush will work just fine for this task, as will a small, soft-bristled scrub brush. (Alternately, if you have a shop vac, you can use it with the brush attachment.)

If any of the fins seem to be bent, straighten them out. A butter knife works well for this task.

If any fins seem to be broken, remove them.

Step 4: Spray It

Retrieve your garden hose, set the nozzle to “jet,” and spray down your entire unit (avoiding the electrical components as best you can).

Step 5: Clean the Coils

It’s time to turn your attention to the condenser coils themselves.

Once you’ve exposed the coils, spray them with the coil cleaner of your choice. Wait for the length of time recommended by the cleaner you’ve chosen, rinse down the unit, reassemble, and allow to air-dry.

It’s as simple as that.

How Can I Protect My Outdoor AC Unit in Winter?

Naturally, if you’re going to schedule a routine AC cleaning, you should take care of it when the weather’s mild. In most parts of North America, that means summer.

If you’re going to face a cold winter, how can you best protect your outdoor AC unit?

Just as some people cover their swimming pools in the winter, others have asked whether it’s prudent to also cover their outdoor AC units.

According to our friends over at HGTV, that’s probably not the case for most homeowners.

Modern outdoor A/C systems are built very well and tested to ensure that they will hold up in extreme circumstances…The condenser (the big box that sits outside) is outfitted with a durable finish to withstand snow, rain and the heat of the sun. The mechanics and coils within the box are well-designed to hold up to extreme heat and cold, too. The quality of the materials and the product’s finish are a big reason that it’s typically unnecessary to cover the A/C unit in the off-season.

Just because you probably don’t have to cover your AC unit, that doesn’t mean you’re totally off the hook.

Though most AC units won’t need to be covered during the winter, there are still a few situations worth considering:

  • Check for leaves, branches, nests, or other sorts of nature-related build-up. Remove them so that they don’t cause any further issues. If your outdoor unit rests near or directly underneath a stand of trees, consider covering it during the height of fall to protect it from the weight of falling leaves and nuts.
  • Evaluate the unit’s position. If it’s in a location that makes it more likely to be buried under a snowdrift or suffer from significant ice build-up, you may consider covering it for the bulk of winter.

We Can Help at Metro Heating & Cooling

If you ever have any questions about cleaning or potentially winterizing your outdoor AC unit, we’re always here for you.

Not only do we love to answer questions about HVAC systems, but our team has a combined 160 years of experience in the heating and air conditioning industry!

Here at Metro Heating and Cooling, we’re proud to have spent the last decade dedicating ourselves to offering our customers the highest industry standard for warranties on all our HVAC systems.

We are completely and entirely passionate about serving your needs, no matter the season.

Contact us for your free estimate today!

Schedule a HVAC repair anywhere in the Minneapolis or St. Paul area today by calling (651) 294-7798 or by requesting an estimate online.


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1220 Cope Avenue East, Maplewood, MN 55109