Winterizing Your AC: What You Shouldn't And Should Do This Year

21 December 2015
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If you plan to winterize your outdoor AC unit this year, you may decide to cover the unit with a tarp to protect it from snow and ice. However, that may not be a good idea. Mice and rats can crawl inside the covered AC to escape the cold weather and chew up the wiring attached to the run capacitor and compressor. The best way to protect your AC over winter is to check the run capacitor and condenser coil for damage. These two critical parts help power and cool the outdoor unit. Here's how you check the run capacitor and condenser coil. 

Why Should You Check Run Capacitor?

The run capacitor gives the outdoor unit a power boost when it first comes on, as well as keeps it going during operation. The run capacitor sits inside a small compartment located on the bottom or top of the unit. The run capacitor resembles a silver- or aluminum-colored soda can with three raised notches on the top of it. Four colored wires connect directly to the notches.

Although a thick panel covers the capacitor and protects it from damage, the metal housing of the capacitor can rust from condensation and humidity. Sometimes, small pests, such as baby lizards, can squeeze past the paneling and pull loose the wires attached to the capacitor. The capacitor won't power up the AC's compressor if this happens. 

It's a good idea that you remove the paneling over the capacitor to see if the part contains rust or loose wires. If you haven't done so already, cut power to the cooling system, then follow the steps below:

  1. Examine the run capacitor for rust. If rust covers most of the part, replace it or have an AC specialist do it for you. If the part has very little to no rust, proceed to step 2.
  2. Examine the top of the capacitor for bulges. The bulges indicate that the run capacitor may blow or stop working soon, so it's a good idea that an AC specialist replace it. If the top is smooth, proceed to step 3.
  3. Use a screwdriver with an insulated handle to check the colored wires on the capacitor.
  4. Press the tip of the screwdriver against the wires. If the wires detach from the notches, reconnect them. If the wires appear frayed or damaged, contact an HVAC contractor to replace them. If the wires appear fine, move to step 5.
  5. Use a toothbrush to clean out the run capacitor's compartment, then replace the paneling.

After you complete the steps above, you can now check the condenser coil.

Why Do You Check the Condenser Coil?

The condenser coil removes heat from the outdoor unit and compressor when it's in operation. If the condenser coil builds up with debris, it can keep the compressor from receiving and transferring refrigerant through the cooling system. Cleaning the coil may eliminate these issues.

Professional HVAC contractors will often remove the outdoor unit's paneling to clean off the condenser coil. But unless you feel comfortable doing so, you don't need to remove the paneling to clean the coil. The outdoor unit should feature multiple grills or openings on its sides that allow you to wash down the coil with a water hose. 

Your water hose should features a nozzle that allows you to control how much water it releases. After you obtain your water hose, do the following things:

  1. Choose a starting point to begin cleaning, such as the backside of the unit, then work your way around. 
  2. Place the water hose on a medium setting, then begin spraying down the unit.
  3. Move the nozzle from side to side to break up and wash away dirt, leaves and bugs.
  4. Repeat the steps above to ensure that the condenser coil is clean.
  5. Turn off the hose, then give the unit 2 hours to dry.

If you still feel the need to cover the outdoor unit this cold season, build a fort over the unit instead of covering it completely. Insert four thick wooden posts into the ground around the unit. Stretch a tarp over the posts, then tie the corners of the tarp to the tops of the posts. The fort will keep snow and ice from falling onto the AC unit.

If you need assistance in replacing the run capacitor or cleaning the condensing coil, contact an AC contractor today. You can also click here for more information.