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The Right Way to Camouflage Outdoor Air Conditioning Equipment

May 17.2017 Brian Arlinghaus

How to Disguise Outdoor Air Conditioning Equipment

You’ve got the most delightful landscaping this year; the flowers and greenery are in full, wonderful bloom. The only trouble is that your air conditioner is spoiling the whole effect. While moving your outdoor air conditioning equipment to a less visible place isn’t always an option, you do have some choices for making the air conditioning unit fit into your landscape more ideally. With some creativity and careful planning to ensure airflow, you can protect your air conditioner and make sure it won’t be an eyesore.

What Does Outdoor Air Conditioning Equipment Do?

The exterior unit of your split-system air conditioner is often called the “condenser.” This part of the system manages refrigerant that was heated and turned into a vapor in the interior evaporator coil as part of the cooling process. Once the refrigerant arrives at the condenser, it is condensed back into a liquid and cooled. This allows the cool refrigerant to cycle back inside the home and the water condensation produced to safely drain from the unit. It is a vital part of your cooling system.

In order for the condenser to expel heat outside the home—a process known as heat rejection—it needs adequate airflow. The compressor in the exterior unit compresses the refrigerant and sends it to the condenser. Air passes over the condensing coils, taking the excess heat as the coils condense the refrigerant back into a liquid. Without proper airflow, one step in the cooling process is either slowed or prevented. This could have an impact on the efficiency of the cooling you receive, forcing your machine to work harder or to decrease the amount of cooling provided to your home.

Experts recommend that you provide at least 1-2 feet of empty space on all sides of the exterior unit so that airflow is not hindered.

What Are Safe Methods of Obscuring the Unit?

You have plenty of options for obscuring your air conditioner, but you must approach it properly. Airflow is crucial to your air conditioning, so whatever you place around the air conditioner must not fall on top of the air conditioner or be likely to grow into the space. You can plant bushes or hedges on one or two sides of the unit, but you should carefully and regularly trim them back so that they do not spread into the airflow area.

If you decide to build a fence around your outdoor equipment, select materials that allow the wind to flow freely through the space. Install them properly so that they are not likely to blow over during a strong windstorm. Ask your HVAC technician and contact your local utilities before digging anywhere close to the unit. You do not want to damage any HVAC equipment, plumbing or utility lines buried underground near the unit. Before building a fence on more than two sides, you should confirm that your design still allows easy access for a technician to get in and provide service for the unit.

Could Hiding the Air Conditioner Damage It?

Although decreased airflow is the most likely risk to your air conditioner when you place things around it, humidity is also something you should keep in mind. Adequate ventilation helps keep the air conditioning unit dry and helps prevent the metal components from rusting. If you plan to obscure your exterior unit, avoid using materials that are airtight like tarps or plastic sheeting. Never cover your air conditioner, even if it is shut off for the winter, before talking to a technician. There are special covers designed for air conditioners in winter, but most climates do not require it.

Are There Practical Reasons to Camouflage the Air Conditioner?

You are probably already in the habit of locking up the kids’ bicycles and other equipment on your property to protect them from theft. Your air conditioner deserves the same treatment. Air conditioning units are a popular target for thieves because most homes have them. People stealing copper from your air conditioning unit may not get a ton of money, but it can cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars in damage. The best way to protect yourself from this form of vandalism is to place your air conditioner in a location where it cannot be seen from the street. If that is not an option for you, adding a fence or landscaping properly and creatively could make the difference between a thief who decides to destroy your air conditioner and one who concludes it is not worth the risk to hunt through your yard.

For many people, the air conditioning unit sitting in the middle of beautiful landscaping is a jarring sight. If you can plan your planting or fencing to provide proper airflow for the space, you can enjoy a lovely summer outdoors or indoors.

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