Why You Should Never Tent Your AC Unit
Nov 19, 2023
As heat waves have moved through the U.S., people are getting creative with their AC systems to save money and try and get them to run more efficiently. Tenting your AC or putting an umbrella over it won’t actually help, though. In fact, it can cause serious problems.
Anything that interferes with air flow around your air conditioner can cause the fan to work harder. Most of the time, an air conditioner will intake air from the sides and exhaust hot air from the top. If you put a tent or umbrella over the top of your unit, hot air will get trapped in closer to the intakes, making the fan run for longer and heating up the whole machine. Any cover over the top of your AC unit should be at least six feet above the fan to keep the air circulating freely.
Most air conditioners are intended to be used at about 95 degrees, but with heat waves driving temperatures beyond this for days or weeks at a time in some parts of the country, household cooling systems are being stretched to their limits. There are some maintenance practices you can turn to to help an overworked AC unit through the peak of a heat wave, but umbrellas and tents aren’t part of the equation.
Because air conditioners work with compressed coolant that absorbs heat from a space and exhausts the heat out through the heat exchanger, the compressor is a central part of the system. Since compressors function less efficiently the hotter and more humid it gets, they will draw more power to cool the same amount of space the hotter it gets. All that extra energy draw can add up fast on your electric bill, and while the tenting method won’t work to improve efficiency, there are still some things you can do.
If you want to improve the efficiency of your AC, shade can help, but you want to make sure that it comes from a source that’s well clear of the unit itself. Six vertical feet of clearance or more is ideal, as well as two to three feet to the sides to keep the air intakes and exhaust working well. Shade from trellised plants, a tree, or even an awning are all good options if you want to cool the area around your air conditioner. This can make it work a little bit more efficiently and also can protect the parts from sun exposure, making them last longer.
To make sure that the air flow around your AC is good, make sure to clear out vegetation within three feet of it and keep debris like grass clippings well clear. Changing your filters regularly as well as making sure that indoor vents are unobstructed can improve the efficiency of your AC. You should also check the drainage for the unit to make sure that it’s working well. Doing this kind of regular maintenance is far more effective than rigging a beach umbrella to it.
Other things you can consider to save some energy is to cut back on appliances that put out heat like dryers and ovens. Making sure that your windows are shaded and well insulated as well as setting the temperature in your home with a smart thermostat can all improve the efficiency of your AC by using less power to keep the temperature cool. Ceiling fans can also help circulate the air and keep things a little cooler with less stress on an AC system.A tent will make the unit even hotter