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How to Winterize Portable, Window, Split & Central AC Units

Winter weather can take a serious toll on the lifespan and durability of your air conditioner. Winterizing your portable, window, split, or central AC unit protects them against damage caused by  snow, ice, rust, and frigid temperatures, and helps ensure your air conditioner will be fully operational when you need it again in the spring.

How to Winterize Portable Air Conditioners

How to Winterize Portable, Window, Split & Central AC Units

NewAir AC-12200E Portable Air Conditioner

Because they're self-contained and used primarily indoors, portable air conditioners aren't normally affected by winter weather, but that doesn't mean they can simply be switched off for the season. They need to be drained, cleaned, and stored properly if you expect them to work again in spring.

Break Down Your Window Kit

Every portable air conditioner comes with a window kit in order to vent hot air generated by the compressor. The window kit is made up of two parts, an extendable hose and a slider kit. Pull the hose from the exhaust port in the back of the air conditioner and from the front of the sliding kit. Fold the extendable hose back together until its compressed and compact. On some units, like the NewAir AC-12200E , there will be a storage compartment for the hose on the top of the unit. Otherwise, keep the hose close by and remove the slider kit from the window. Retract the kit's extendable bolt.

Drain Your Portable Air Conditioner

Portable air conditioners not only cool the air, they dehumidify it. As air moves over the cooling coils, its temperature drops, causing water vapor molecules suspended inside to condense and form liquid. To keep it from interfering with the air conditioner's performance, the liquid is collected and funneled into a storage tank. This tank needs to be drained before the portable air conditioner is stored away for the winter, otherwise the excess water may corrode the tank, fan, or compressor.

To drain your portable air conditioner, place a container underneath drain plug in the back. The drain plug is low to the ground, so use a shallow container, like a pan, water tray, or Tupperware. You may also want to place a towel underneath in case there's any spillage. If you have access to a drain, that works even better. To begin draining, remove the drain knob and the rubber plug. The water will start flowing out into the container. When it's almost full, stop up the drain with the rubber plug and empty the container. Repeat until all the water has been drained, then replace the rubber plug and the drain knob.

Clean the Filters

Filters remove dust and debris from the air and over the course of a busy summer, it's easy for them to get clogged with dirt and other particles. Dirty filters are a big drain on efficiency, so you need to make sure they're clean before storing your portable air conditioner for the winter. The filters are located on the back of your unit, fixed in place by a plastic clasp or screwed into the housing. Unfasten the clasp and slide them out, or remove them using a screwdriver. Tap them gently to shake lose any dust or dirt, then use a soft brush or vacuum cleaner to remove any remaining debris. Finally, rinse the filters with running water and then let them dry before placing them back inside your portable air conditioner.

Unplug and Store the Power Cord

Some portable air conditioners, like the NewAir AC-12000H , come with a storage compartment in the back of the unit for the power cord. Unplug the unit and wrap the power cord until it's compact enough to fit inside. Remove the panel over the storage compartment, place the plug inside, and snap the panel back into place.

If your portable air conditioner does not have a storage compartment for the power cord, make sure its wrapped up and secured with tape or a rubber band. Store it with the air conditioner to prevent it from becoming lost. Now the portable air conditioner is ready to be stored away.

Storing Your Portable Air Conditioner

The best place to store your portable air conditioner is inside your home, where it's protected from the elements. Try to find a warm, dry area that doesn't experience freezing temperatures or excessive heat. Under stair storage rooms, basements, and garages area all good places, as long as they're warm enough to prevent any residual water inside the air conditioner from freezing and causing damage. Never store your portable air conditioner any place where it's in direct sunlight. Prolonged exposure to sunlight may cause the plastic housing to become discolored (the NewAir AC-14100E Portable Air Conditioner is particularly vulnerable to discolorization). Storing it in its original box, or cover it with a tarp or sheet to protect it.

How to Winterize Window Air Conditioners

How to Winterize Portable, Window, Split & Central AC Units

There are two ways to store window air conditioners during winter. The first is to remove them and store them inside, like a portable air conditioner. The other is to leave them in place and shield them from the elements. Removing window air conditioners is safer. Storing them inside provides additional protection and makes them easier to clean, but can be dangerous. Window AC units are heavy. Some weigh upwards of 100 pounds. If you do decide to remove it, make sure there is at least one other person available to help you.

Clean the Coils

Brush off any leaves or dirt that may have accumulated on the air conditioner over the summer, then open up the window air conditioner to clean the heating and cooling coils. The cooling coils face into your house, while the heating coils face out the back. To reach the cooling coils, remove the front grill and the filters (they should pop off). To reach the heating coils, you will have to remove the back housing cover. It will be screwed on. Remove the screws with a screwdriver and set it aside.

Scrub the front and back coils with soap and water in order to remove any dirt or debris that may have accumulated there. Do not use any hydrocarbon-based cleaners such as acetone, benzene naphtha, or gasoline as they may damage the unit. If you are unable to remove the rear housing, you can wash some of the dirt off the heating coils by carefully spraying the back of the unit with a hose. The water won't damage the motor of internal circuitry.

Once the coils have been cleaned, tip the unit on its side to drain it. Wipe down the housing and the coils with a soft cloth or paper towel and let the air conditioner dry thoroughly before proceeding. Do not store the unit with any excess water left inside, otherwise it may freeze and cause damage. Once the unit is dry, replace the front grill and rear housing cover.

Clean the Filters

The filters in a window air conditioner are located behind the front grill. Remove them and clean off any dirt and debris using a soft brush, then rinse the filters with running water. Alternately, if your filters are old or too saturated with dirt, it may be best to purchase replacement filters and dispose of your old ones.

Storing the Unit

If you have decided to store your window air conditioner indoors, make sure it's placed somewhere warm and dry. Cover the unit with a sheet or moving blanket for protection and make sure it's placed off the ground.

If you've decided to leave your window air conditioner in place, wrap it in an air conditioner cover to protect it from wind, ice, or snow damage. A plastic tarp can also be used instead. Wrap the tarp around the unit and hold it in place by wrapping a bungee cord over it. If you live in an area that suffers from high winds, you may also want to use an additional bungee cord to secure the unit to the house in order to prevent it from shifting during storms. To prevent cold air from entering your house through gaps along the edge of your air conditioner, place weather stripping along the out side window edges.

How to Winterize Split Air Conditioners and Central Air Conditioners

Split air conditioners and central air conditioners both use fixed, outside condensers to generate cold air. These need to be thoroughly cleaned before winter, and before being switched on in the spring in order to prevent excessive dust accumulation from hampering its operation.

How to Winterize Portable, Window, Split & Central AC Units
Cut the Power

Locate the air conditioning circuit. It should be located outside, near the condenser. It's normally protected by a metal or plastic lid. Open the lid and switch it off. This will protect your air conditioner from activating unexpectedly during a hot day. All air conditioners dehumidify, including your condenser. Even a short burst of activity can cause moisture buildup inside that could later freeze and damage your system.

Clean the Coils

Remove any dust or debris that may have accumulated on the condenser with a soft bristle brush, then take a hose and wash the unit. Spray the coils and fan until all the dirt, dust, cobwebs, bird droppings, and other residue has been completely removed. Wipe down tough spots with soap or window cleaner, and a soft towel.

Clean the Filter

The filers on a split air conditioner and central air conditioner are located inside your home, not in the condenser. Split AC filters are located in the evaporator, which vents cool air into your home. Remove them the same way you would with a window air conditioner, by popping off the front grill. The filters on a central AC system are located at the bottom of the return air duct, which draws in warm air from your home, mostly likely located in your basement. Remove the filter by opening the duct and pulling it out.

The filters in each unit are cleaned the exact same way. Tap them gently to shake lose any dust or debris, brush or vacuum off the dirt, and then rinse them under running water. When they're dry, return them to the unit. If you're using central AC, make sure the filter is facing the same direction as the air flow through the duct. There will be an arrow on the filter to help you line it up correctly.

Cover Exterior Pipes

Use foam pipe covers to insulate any exposed piping leading to and from the condenser in order to prevent them from freezing and bursting if temperatures fall below 32°F.

Cover the Condenser

Though experts disagree, it is not necessary to cover your condenser during winter. Split and central air conditioners are designed to withstand conditions outdoors and should not be unduly affected by winter weather. If you live in an area with heavy winter storms, you may want to protect your condenser from falling ice or tree branches by placing a piece of plywood over the top of your condenser. Place a rock, cinder block, or other heavy object on top of it to prevent it from blowing away. No further protection is necessary. There are vinyl covers made to fit outdoor condensers, but they may actually harm your air conditioner trapping moisture inside the unit or by attracting mice and other rodents seeking shelter from the cold. Animals are one of the main causes of damage to split and central air conditioners. 

Final Thoughts

Winterizing your portable, window, split, or central AC unit should be part of your yearly home maintenance routine. Dirty coils, dirty filters, rust, and weather damage not only decrease the efficiency of your air conditioner, they shorten its lifespan. Before the weather gets too cold, spend some time getting your air conditioner ready for winter.

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