Maintaining Clearance Around Outdoor AC Unit

While most of the components of your home’s HVAC system sit inside the structure itself, one major exception is your air conditioning unit. This item, which sits outside just next to the home, needs to be outdoors to allow it to expel the warm air and humidity it removes from the various rooms and areas in your home – and an important related theme that you’ll often hear about during new AC installation or even air conditioner repairs is ensuring there’s proper clearance between the sides and top of this unit and any possible obstructions, including your home itself.

At My Buddy the Plumber, we’ve performed numerous air conditioner installations and related services for clients throughout Salt Lake City, and we’ll do the same for you if you’re in need. Whether during an AC replacement or even certain repair types, clearance will often be an issue we’ll discuss with you, especially if your unit has been experiencing issues that might be due to a lack of proper clearance. Why does this theme matter, what are the general guidelines for AC unit clearances, and how can you ensure various potential obstructions are not an issue? Here’s a primer on this important area.

clearance outdoor AC unit

Why Clearance Matters

Airflow is a major part of the operation of every component in your HVAC system, and the AC unit is no exception – in fact, it’s one of the best examples. The way an air conditioner works is by sending refrigerant into your home, allowing it to pull the hot air and humidity out of your rooms before being sent back to the unit and eventually expelled into the outdoor air. As you might imagine, this process requires quality airflow throughout the system.

But if the unit is too close to any kind of obstruction, this airflow may be interrupted. Not only will this risk your home not receiving the proper cooling, it also will force the unit to work harder just to produce a similar level of cool air – and that will raise your utility bills. Finally, as this is happening, the heat generated inside your unit won’t be properly expelled, and this often leads to significant damage of interior components.

Now that you know why AC unit clearance is important, our next several sections will go over the distances you should maintain, plus some basic tips on inspections and the obstructions you’ll be preventing.

General Guidelines

Generally speaking, HVAC professionals will recommend at least one foot of clearance on all four sides of the air conditioner unit. There may be some cases where specific units carry a manufacturer recommendation for larger clearance, but this usually won’t exceed two feet unless you’ve purchased a rarer, specialty unit.

It’s also important, however, to consider clearance on top of the unit as well. There should be a minimum of 60 inches of vertical clearance for all AC units, as this area above the compressor is the primary space where air is pulled from – if it’s obstructed, the AC could pull in warm air instead, and lose its efficiency as a result.

Pre-Installation Inspection

For the above reasons, a service that will generally accompany any new air conditioner installation will be a basic site inspection from your HVAC specialist. We’ll ensure that the conditions are right for proper clearance for your unit, plus note potential obstructions and take any steps needed to proactively limit them ahead of time. That way, when the day comes to install the unit itself, there will be no concerns with space or other installation issues.

Potential Obstructions

There are a few different types of obstructions you should be keeping away from your outdoor AC unit, including each of the following:

  • Construction obstructions: Items like walls, fences and other structures that are relatively permanent and tough to move or remove. For these kinds of solid items, we generally recommend at least two feet between the outdoor unit and the obstruction – this includes your home. A window or door near the outdoor unit is fine, as long as it’s at least two feet away and there’s no exhaust air flowing into it.
  • Mechanical obstructions: These refer to other components of your home or even the HVAC system itself, such as outlet vents, gas vents, fill valves and others. Not only might these limit the efficiency of your unit, they can also pose fire risks in some cases, and a minimum of at least four feet of clearance should be maintained.
  • Landscaping obstructions: Many landscaping items, from plants and flowers through retaining walls, potted plants or others, could also serve as obstructions to the AC unit. You should maintain at least two feet between these and your unit at all times, including regular trimming to ensure this gap doesn’t shrink too far.

Other Clearance Considerations

There are a couple other outdoor clearance themes we wanted to mention for our clients here:

  • Two units: For homes that have multiple outdoor units, clearance between them is also important. Not only will units placed too close together compete for the same intake air, they may also interfere with venting themes for each other. There should be at least four feet between outdoor units, and often more.
  • Outdoor heat pump: Another possible outdoor component for your HVAC system is a heat pump, which some homes utilize instead of a furnace. There should be at least two feet of clearance for the heat pump from any obstructions, and you should also remove snow and ice around the pump during winter.

For more on AC unit clearance themes, or to learn about any of our heating and air repairs, replacements or even our plumbing services, speak to the staff at My Buddy the Plumber today.