Can A Canopy Lower Your Home's Energy Costs? Here's What The Experts Say

Air conditioning is a must in many regions, but let's be honest — it can get pretty expensive. According to Inspire, running an AC unit costs around $14 to $211 a month, on average, if it's running for about eight hours each day. It's widely known that increasing your thermostat by a few degrees in the summer could lower your electric bill compared to leaving it at the same temperature 24/7. Many homeowners believe — or wonder if — adding a pop-up canopy or similar structure over their outdoor unit (called a condenser) could also save them a big chunk of cash, but can it? A U.S. Department of Energy spokesperson told Snopes this is actually a "myth," and any change in your bill would be minimal. 

If you touch the hood of your car after leaving it parked in the sun all day, it would probably be very hot, since it's made from steel, aluminum, and other materials. Parking under a canopy, on the other hand, would obviously make a noticeable temperature difference. Some people assume that a condenser would be affected by this shade in the same way, since the unit also contains metal. This isn't true, though, and the reason lies in how the appliance was designed to operate. Luckily, there are some alternatives that don't involve placing anything directly above your condenser that can help it run more efficiently.

Why you shouldn't place a pop-up canopy over your outdoor AC unit

The idea of shading your condenser unit with a canopy has surfaced in many places, including the news and social media. Roland Arrisola, the co-general manager of Stan's Heating, Air & Plumbing, told FOX 7 Austin that the outdoor unit is "made to be in extreme weather, so shading it is not a good thing." To understand why it's not a good idea, you have to understand how a central AC system works. The inside portion of your system contains evaporator coils, while the outside includes a condenser, compressor, and fan. The latter serves an important function that could be affected by a canopy. More on that later.

When you turn your AC on, warm air passes over the evaporator coils. These components contain a liquid cooling agent called a refrigerant that absorbs heat and converts the refrigerant to a gas. The fumes travel to the compressor outside the unit and are converted back to a liquid state. This process generates heat, which is released via the condenser coils and outdoor fan. So if you were to place a canopy directly above the condenser unit, it could impede airflow, which could end up costing you even more money down the road. SirDarion Conston, owner of ConstonAir LLC, told 12NewsNow that this "will draw the amperage up on the motor and cause premature failure" of the unit."

Better ways to help your appliance run more efficiently (and save you money)

Even though a pop-up canopy over your AC unit won't result in major savings on next month's electric bill, trees and other plants could make a more noticeable difference. In general, shade can help your condenser run more efficiently, as long as the hot air can easily flow from the unit. Plants and other trees can move with the wind and provide shade without impeding this airflow, unlike the solid polyester material of a canopy. If you aren't lucky enough to already have large trees near your AC unit, you can easily add some vegetation to your yard. Just be sure to plant them at least 3 to 5 feet from the appliance, and choose species that grow vertically, not horizontally.

Another way you can help your AC system run more efficiently is by simply keeping the condenser unit clean. Take a water hose, sans attachment, and position it to a 45-degree angle as the liquid sprays into the unit. Rinse all around the appliance to remove debris like grass, leaves, webs, etc. All Utah Plumbing, Heating & Air recommends cleaning the unit about three times a year to help it run more efficiently, which can ultimately save you money on your energy bill.