Many people take pride in their yards, keeping it clean and tidy year-round. Others take a more laid-back approach, planting easy-to-maintain shrubs and plants that require minimum effort. Whatever your approach, when working in your yard, don’t forget the AC unit. To keep your AC in top condition, it needs plenty of clear space around it. Let’s take a quick look at how you can keep your AC running great while also making the most of your lawn.
Give Your AC Condenser Space
When landscaping your yard, you have several options to keep the yard looking well maintained. The main point to remember is to always leave a 24-inch clearance around the entire AC unit no matter what you do, including branches, foliage or fruit obstructing the unit.
If you want to screen an ugly AC unit from view, consider growing a tall standalone annual such as sunflowers or zinnias, or a fast-growing summer plant like elephant ears. You’ll need to replant them every spring in most climates, but it should not be a problem as they are fast and easy to grow. If you like some variety, these are a great option as you can plant new varieties each year.
Another fine choice is a simple trellis covered with annual vines such as sweet pea and morning glory, or thunbergia. The trellis efficiently screens the unit from view while being aesthetically pleasing and functional. Besides annual plants you can choose perennials and shrubs that will last several years, saving you effort on replanting.
You’ll want to leave plenty of room for an HVAC technician to work on the unit, so it’s recommended to not block more than 2 sides of the unit.
In case you don’t want the hassle of weeding and watering the area around your unit, consider xeriscaping. This is recommended because it is drought-tolerant, requires less maintenance, and eliminates the need for any chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Suggested materials for xeriscaping are bricks, boulders, succulents, and gravel.
Keep It Clean!
You might think that looking after the yard is enough work, and be tempted to ignore the cleaning of the AC unit. This would be a mistake, however, as it’s easy for grass clippings, fallen leaves or even trash to get stuck underneath the unit or in the vents. Keeping the AC clean does not have to be a pain. Just follow these simple steps to clean up your AC:
First turn off the power for the outer as well as the internal unit to prevent electric shocks. Using a wet/dry vacuum with a soft-bristled attachment, vacuum away foreign objects from the fins. Remove all brush, vegetation, and debris from around the condenser and if any of the fins are bent, use a fine comb to gently and carefully straighten them out. Do not make contact with the tubes that carry the refrigerant, as it may damage them. Carefully lift out the fan after removing the top grille and place it in a safe location. Remove any debris from inside the unit and wipe the interior clean.
For a quick clean, just hose down the outside unit with water and remove any debris in and around the unit.
Is a Cover Necessary?
Like most objects left outside, ACs are also liable to be damaged during storms or during the winter months. However, the major brands make their outdoor units durable and long-lasting, able to take a beating from almost any kind of weather. Even these AC manufacturers don’t recommend covers during winter.
Reasons not to keep a cover on your AC include moisture, rodents, and mildew. With a cover on your air conditioner, you can trap moisture in, which can then create mold. You are much better off not using a cover for this reason. Similarly, a cover can attract rats and other rodents to shelter inside the unit during the winter, leading to problems such as chewed electrical wires ad stripped coolant lines.
On the other hand, there are times when a cover is recommended for your outdoor AC unit, such as during hail storms. Similarly, covering the unit during blizzards and snowstorms will help prevent the buildup of snow inside the unit. Covering the unit during fall can also prevent falling leaves blocking the AC’s vents. If you do buy a cover, look for something that’s waterproof, easy to install and durable.
Trust the Pros
Apart from keeping the unit clean and the space around it clear, you may encounter various issues with your AC from time to time. Many of the problems can be prevented by simply getting the unit serviced regularly by a reputable contractor.
Some common problems that may require a professional include ice on the outside unit during warm weather, no cool air blowing from the AC and strange noises from the unit. Sometimes just the steps here to keep the unit clean and clear can help fix the freezing up or lack of cool air. But if they don’t work, or if other problems are present, call a professional.
Not Getting Cold Air
If your AC is not blowing out cool air, it might mean your AC has dirty filters, the thermostat is faulty or has the incorrect setting, or maybe a power problem. To fix this yourself you should first inspect the thermostat and determine if the setpoint temperature is 5 degrees lower than the room’s temperature to start the AC’s cooling. The thermostat may have dead batteries that need replacing. Check for blocked or closed vents and then check your air filters for dust and replace them if needed. Finally, check the fuse box for tripped breakers or blown fuses and adjust if required.
AC Gets Frozen
If your outdoor unit has ice on it, it may mean dirty air filters, leaking AC coolant, defective parts or duct/vent issues. For the dirty air filters problem follow the steps outlined earlier. For other issues, consult a professional who can properly diagnose and fix the issues without damaging the HVAC system. Modern ACs have many parts that need to be installed and maintained correctly in order to give the optimal results. Technicians who are qualified and experienced in these procedures are the best people for this job.
Taking care of your yard does not mean just keeping it tidy, but taking care of the AC unit that is placed there as well. To hide an unsightly AC, you can choose to screen it with plants or a fence, but remember to allow access for technicians and leave a two-foot space around it for ventilation. For minor problems, you can diagnose and repair the AC yourself, but always consult a professional for issues that you’re not experienced or qualified to solve yourself. You could save yourself from an expensive mistake.
This is a guest post by Bob Wells, a retired HVAC tech who now dedicates himself to sharing knowledge on his website HVAC Training 101. Bob worked over 30 years in the field, 23 of which he ran his own contracting business. He’s dedicated to keeping up with the latest developments in the field and helping others to learn the trade better and advance their own careers.
Bob is on Twitter with the handle @hvactraining101 and you can also find him on Facebook.