Part of making sure your air conditioning system will perform its best for you requires specific clearance. Clearances include the bottom, sides, and top of the unit. In this blog, I’ll share with you some of the distances your AC needs to meet factory standards.
Why it matters
Why does this matter? Your AC breathes in through the sides and blows hot air out of the top of it. Remember, on an air conditioner; we are trying to remove heat from your house. If the outdoor unit can’t breathe in, it can’t breathe out as much as it needs. Failing to follow these guidelines can end up lowering the lifespan of it, causing you to have to buy a new one sooner than you expected.
When you have a new unit installed, the building inspector uses the residential and other codes to make sure it’s installed correctly and safely. One of the guides they use is the installation manual for the equipment. If the install guide says the AC should be a certain distance from the wall or shrubs around it, the inspector will hold us to it.
The sides of the AC
Most equipment installation manuals will tell you the unit needs to be “no less than” a certain amount of inches from the back wall. In the case of our Trane equipment, it’s “no less than 12 inches”. The sides also need to be 12″ from any shrubbery. Believe it or not, thick shrubs can reduce the system’s airflow, causing it to overheat.
Also, remember your service technician needs to get in there every once and a while to makes repairs. If there’s a rose bush right there at the unit, there’s no way they will be able to avoid getting cut up while trying to work in the service panel. It’s little details like this that will make things go a lot easier for everyone involved.
Check out the video I made discussing this topic a little more.
People like to put up decorative wooden structures around the AC. Just remember what we are talking about here before you do this. When the AC overheats, your new 20 SEER high-efficiency system is already performing lower than if it was 20 years old!
Another nuisance on the sides of the unit that I often see is a lint trap that is too close to the unit. Lint is being spat out of the sidewall while the AC is sucking air through its sides. This isn’t a good combination because the coils will clog up faster, causing it to overheat, reducing the unit’s efficiency.
The top and bottom of the AC
Not only do you need room on the sides, but having something too close to the top of the unit can prevent the unit from getting rid of the heat it’s trying to ventilate. An AC needs a minimum of 5′ clearance above it for this reason. Preventing rain from pouring onto it from the roof is also recommended by all manufacturers.
In cold climates around the nation where heavy snowfall and prolonged freezing temperatures prevail, units should be elevated from the ground. Trane’s install guide says 3″ to 12″ is required depending on local weather conditions. This allows the drainage of snowmelt and ice during the defrost cycle of a heat pump during the winter. In these climates, snowdrifts can accumulate on the side of the house in high wind situations. Snow drifts against the outdoor heat pump will prevent it from breathing in properly, reducing the efficiency.
So you can see how airflow around the outdoor AC is essential. You want to give it the best chance to breathe in from the sides and blow out the top unrestricted. Failing to do so not only reduces the efficiency of your old or new AC, it will reduce the lifespan of it as well. So get out there and make a difference around your AC or heat pump. It will thank you!