Keeping Your HVAC System Protected & Operating This Winter

ByMarc Silberberg


The temperature hit 32 degrees this morning here in the east and it is not even Thanksgiving yet. The question is not only have you had your heating system tuned up but also what about your central air? It’s quite important to winterize your HVAC condensing unit to protect it from snow and ice and other winter hazards. So, yes, it is important to check out your heating system before the cold weather sets in but don’t forget to prep your central air as well. Many systems today are combo units with the heating and air conditioning coming through the same air ducts. The same way your air conditioning will not work at optimum service if your air ducts are clogged and dirty, your heating system will suffer as well. Clogged vents and warm heating temperatures cause deteriorating air quality in the home.

How to Prepare Your Central Air for the Winter

1) The first part of your preparation is to locate the electrical circuit of your outdoor unit and shut it off. It should be outside the house wall near the unit and usually has some type of plastic cover. Open the lid and shut the power supply. This accomplishes two things; one is that in case there is a warm day in the winter the unit will not turn on by accident. The second advantage of the shut off is to prevent any water from going into the unit that could freeze overnight and damage your HVAC equipment. If it gets too hot, your machine is protected or if it gets too cold it’s protected by shutting off the power.

2) Hose the unit to remove any dead bugs, dirt, dust, and bird droppings. Cut any branches or grass that is hanging over or infiltrating the unit. Make sure it is a sunny day, so the unit dries properly and completely.

3) The exterior exposed pipes can be covered with rubber pipe insulation such as foam. The foam should be cut to fit the length and width of the pipe. Duct tape should be wrapped around the foam to keep it in place in case of winds or other inclement weather conditions. This will help protect the pipes against freezing temperatures.

4) Some experts advise that the homeowner cover the HVAC unit with an air conditioner cover. There are several types of these covers coinciding with different expert opinions. The first type of cover is one that covers the HVAC unit from top to bottom and side to side. These protectors come in a variety of colors and sizes to fit your unit snugly. You simply put the cover over the air conditioner without using any tools. There is a Velcro closure and a flap hole for the hose. The second type of cover is one that starts at the top and goes about halfway down the sides leaving the bottom part of the unit exposed. The third type is a piece of heavy plywood placed on the top of the unit to protect it from rain or snow getting into it. You can also add a heavy rock or two on top of the plywood to make sure it is not toppled by wind or animals or if you feel it is not as heavy as it should be.

Why the disagreement between experts? Some experts believe that a good quality outdoor HVAC machine is specifically made to withstand the elements of bad and cold weather. These experts contend that by covering your unit completely you are inviting stray animals into a cozy warm place to keep them alive in the winter. They would argue that the most you should do is use the plywood top, but some mavens imply this is not necessary if the unit is in good working condition. Some technicians will advise to treat the unit with a rust protectant. Best is to consult with your HVAC advisor to find out the best way to protect your unit in your climate and location.

5) If you are not a snowbird and are home in the winter it’s prudent to look over your outdoor air conditioning unit every so often, even once a week. Remove any twigs, branches, pinecones, leaves or snow that can damage the unit. If your unit is covered with a full protector check if it is positioned right similar to your BBQ cover since winds can blow part of it off. Most importantly check for any hibernating creatures hiding underneath.

Indoor Air Quality Is Worse In The Winter

There are several major reasons why your home’s air quality suffers during the winter months. As I watch YouTube videos online instructing homeowners on how to eliminate drafts by placing towels or special door draft protectors I cringe. By keeping out fresh cold air the comfort level might be improved short term, however, we do want some fresh air to come into our home somehow but who wants to open the window to air out the house as they did in the olden days? By sealing ourselves into our nice warm cozy homes we are trapping in dust and other airborne pollutants. The EPA specifies that inefficient ventilation in buildings and private homes decreases the air quality.

Who doesn’t love the warmth and smell of a genuine wood burning fireplace? As the weather gets colder, home residents who have fireplaces try to use them to save money on their heating bills. However, as the air cools and becomes thicker, the smoke will experience more air resistance. The smoke gets trapped in the home and wood smoke if left unchecked increases the amounts of PM2.5 (this refers to fine liquid or solid particles that are 2.5 microns in diameter or less such as vehicle exhaust and tobacco smoke, often entering a building and contributing to the particles within a building).

Should You Use Home Humidifiers?

For family members with dry mouths, there is a dilemma of how high or low to keep the heating temperature. A nice cozy warm bedroom is such a pleasure to enter on a cold night, especially if you are just coming in from the cold outdoors. Often good ventilation does not go hand in hand with home heating. In fact, the higher the temperature the worse the ventilation. Yes, the cold outdoor air is quite dry, and people are tempted to use a humidifier to moisten the dry indoor air. Parents will place the humidifier on a table or chair right near their child’s bed to improve the child’s breathing especially if they snore. You must track the level of humidity in the house, or the humidifier can cause dust mites as well as mold growth. So many people have unexplained symptoms that can ultimately be attributed to winter mold. Humidifiers must be checked not only about how much humidity they bring into the room but also if there is any mold inside the machine itself. Do yourself a favor if you insist on keeping the room temperature high and decide to use a humidifier. Make sure to clean it every day. When you reach into the base of your humidifier it will feel greasy. After unplugging the unit, fill it with equal parts of water and vinegar (one cup of each should do it) and let it stand for an hour. Make sure to use a vinegar such as Heinz with a six-percent acidity.

As the base of the unit is standing for hours, take this time to thoroughly clean the water reservoir part. Place two cups of the pure white vinegar in the reservoir, close it well and shake it for several minutes.

Indoor Air Quality Monitor

Too much moisture in the air is one of the reasons for indoor air quality problems. There is a device called an IAQ monitor which indicates the moisture level and notifies you when the air is unacceptable. It also tells you which part of the house has too much moisture. Some of these devices can give you recommendations on how to repair the issue. An indoor air quality monitor will warn you when there are unsafe air quality levels in your home. The measurements are usually shown on a screen or on your mobile app. One type of device will even automatically activate an air purifier, fan or a dehumidifier. This way if someone in the house has allergy symptoms you can check if the air quality in the home is to blame. The cold season is a bad time for indoor air quality. People being in close contact whether in office buildings or private homes causes pollutants to be trapped which makes for harmful indoor air quality. By wearing masks, we are not being realistic with ourselves about breathing in good quality air. Yes, we can be protected from a fellow worker in close proximity to us but that will not improve the overall air quality we are breathing. The wisest idea is to keep on top of the situation by using monitors such as Amazon’s new Smart Air Quality Monitor for about $70.


The weather is becoming colder with temperatures going to the freezing point and the fresh air is colored in white smoke when we exhale. This is the opportune time to winterize central air units and to check on the indoor air quality of our home. There are many inexpensive devices for both these checkups on the market so take advantage of them.

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