Outside air conditioning condenser units. Almost every home being built today has at least one. Some large homes have several, as many as five or more.
Minimum Clearances Need to be Followed When Hiding Condenser Units
A common problem in the HVAC business today is that many homeowners want to hide their condensers from view, either with dense shrubbery or privacy fencing. Some homeowners whose condenser units are located within hearing distance of their back porches or patios will put up a retaining wall or privacy fence to block out the noise they make, and some hide their condenser units with the best of intentions, that of protecting them from damage. Of course, there are some homeowners who just consider the units to be unattractive, and hide them for aesthetic purposes.
Whatever the reason for doing so, screening the condenser units can cause serious problems with the cooling system if not done properly. In fact, many building codes now mandate that the minimum clearance around the condenser units be equal to or greater than what is specified in the unit's installation manual to ensure proper function. If the screening material is put into place during construction of the home, the contractor is usually aware of the minimum requirements and designs accordingly. If not, the inspector will usually require that it be done before signing off on the work.
HVAC Air Conditioning Condensers Work Much the Same as an Automobile Radiator
The problems usually arise when homeowners install some type of screening themselves, as many are unaware of the potential damage they could be causing, and no inspection is required for the work. Even if a landscaping company is used, there's no guarantee that they will be aware of the system requirements and plan accordingly.
To understand why screening a condenser unit too closely can cause damage, a homeowner would first need to know what a condenser unit is. Put simply, all a condenser unit really amounts to is a giant radiator, much the same as is in the front of an automobile. Although air conditioners use a refrigerant liquid instead of water, the premise is still the same. Heat is transferred from within the living space to the exterior of the home through the refrigerant, just as an automobile radiator transfers heat from the engine to the exterior through the water it contains. In the case of a heat pump unit, this process is simply reversed, and heat is transferred from the outside to the interior of the home.
Looking at an air conditioning condenser, the coils that carry the refrigerant are visible through the vents in the sides, and a large exhaust fan is mounted on the top to pull air through the coil to discharge heat. If a retaining wall or dense shrub is installed too close to these vents, it can restrict the amount of air being drawn in, causing the system to lose efficiency. By the same token, if an overhanging shrub, tree, or porch deck is dense enough to restrict the air flow coming out of the top of the condenser unit, it can do the same thing. In extreme cases, this can even cause the condenser unit to fail completely, due to excessive heat build up in the compressor located inside it.
Consult the Owner's Manual or an HVAC Professional Before Beginning Work
Those thinking of screening their air conditioning condenser or condensers should remember the automobile comparison. If what they are planning to install is closer to the condenser unit than they would feel comfortable parking a running automobile in front of, it's probably too close.
A good rule of thumb is to maintain a minimum of twenty-four inches clearance around the outside of the condenser unit, and a minimum of forty-eight inches above it to allow proper circulation. For optimum results, the homeowner should consult the owner's manual or an HVAC professional to find the exact minimum requirements of their type of system, as some high efficiency models require more clearances than do typical air conditioning condensers. An air conditioning condenser with proper clearances will work much more energy efficiently than one without, as it will run for less time to deliver the same amount of cooling as a restricted unit.
For more money and energy saving tips on using HVAC systems, the articles listed below may be of use:
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