Four Air Conditioner Maintenance Tasks To Complete Before Winter

Your air conditioner may be one of the last things you think about when the cold wind is howling and winter's on its way in. But the way you care for your unit now will make a big impact on how long it lasts and how well it performs once spring comes. Here are four air conditioner maintenance tasks to tackle before the brunt of winter come.

Turn off the power.

You don't want your air conditioner to accidentally get turned on if someone hits the wrong button on the thermostat. Running it while it's covered in snow and ice could cause permanent damage. So, turn the power off to the air conditioner. Usually, there's an exterior shutoff box located near the unit. (It's often mounted on the home). Alternatively, you could just flip the circuit breaker connected to your AC unit—as long as it's the only appliance on that circuit.

Clean up brush and leaves.

During the fall, leaves and brush tend to blow up against the outdoor air conditioning unit. These are not a huge problem in and of themselves when you're not running the air conditioner. However, they can trap moisture near the unit, and this can lead to rusting and corrosion during the winter months. Take an hour or two to clear away fallen leaves and also trim any bushes or shrubs that are touching the air conditioner.

Change the filter.

In most systems, the air from your furnace and the air from your air conditioner actually flow through the same air filter. Your air filter is bound to be dirty after running your AC unit all summer, so changing it now will protect your entire HVAC system from dust buildup. You may want to use a high-end HEPA filter if you have pets or mold allergies, but a standard, fiberglass filter—the kind that's typically $1–2 at the hardware store -- will suffice in most cases.

Empty the drain pan.

On the side of the indoor unit of your AC system, you should see a drain pan. This pan collects condensation as it builds up in the air conditioner. If there's any liquid in it, empty it now. Otherwise, it may sit and develop mold over the winter. If you do see mold in the drain pan, take a moment to scrub it out with some bleach water to prevent it from continuing to grow next summer.