Is It OK to Landscape Around My HVAC Unit?

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Whether you have a furnace, an air conditioner, or a heat pump, chances are that all or part of your HVAC system is installed outside of your home, often in the side yard. If you don’t like the look of that metal box sitting next to your house, you may want to hide it with a fence or shrubs. Or you may simply have other landscaping around or near it. To keep your HVAC running at its best, it’s important to make sure that whatever landscaping is around it, you protect the unit and ensure both access and airflow.

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How to Protect Your HVAC Unit

When mowing or weed whacking, be careful not to hit the unit or send debris flying at it. Make sure you angle your lawnmower so that it doesn’t shoot grass clippings into your HVAC. Debris inside the unit can dirty the coils and damage the fan. And be especially careful with the weed whacker. If you get too close to the HVAC with your electric trimmer, you can damage the coils, fins, or even the lines. Instead, pull up weeds around the unit by hand and cut back shrubs carefully with shears.

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Speaking of shrubs, if you do decide to put shrubs or a fence around your HVAC unit, you’ve got to leave plenty of space between the unit and the landscaping. There should be at least two feet of clearance on all sides of the cabinet. This is crucial for two reasons.

First, if your unit needs to be serviced, the technician has to be able to get to it! Any fence or hedge around the unit needs to have a gate or opening and leave enough room for the technician and all of his tools. Second, your HVAC unit needs plenty of airflow. The air conditioner or heat pump must be able to draw in outside air to blow over the condenser coils. If it can’t get enough air, then the unit won’t run as efficiently or effectively.

It’s also important to trim back other kinds of landscaping plants, like azalea bushes and monkey grass, from your unit. Debris from these plants—such as leaves and flower petals—can blow into the unit. Plus, they can basically act as a blanket, restricting airflow and holding moisture in the unit, leading to rust.

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So, keep the area around your outside HVAC cabinet clear. It will help your HVAC to run better and make it easier for your HVAC technician to access the unit for maintenance and service.

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