As the sweltering summer sunshine starts to fade and the relief of fall starts to settle in, residents of Jefferson start preparing their homes and yards for the the upcoming cold weather. For many, that leads to the question of whether they should cover their outdoor air conditioner for the winter.

While it may seem like a smart idea, the reality is there are multiple reasons why you shouldn’t cover your AC unit in the winter. In addition to not being something you need to do, covering your outdoor air conditioning equipment can sometimes cause problems.

Here, the professionals at Pratt Brothers share five reasons why covering your air conditioning equipment doesn’t need to be on your fall to-do list and what you should do instead.

1. Your AC can Handle Snow

Outside AC units are supposed to withstand harsh weather conditions like snow in the winter. These units are built with solid materials and hardware that can handle the outdoor elements without damage. The coils and fins of the unit are constructed to resist corrosion, and the housing is designed to protect the internal elements from moisture and debris.

2. Covering Your Air Conditioner Can Cause Mold

One of the reasons you should not cover your air conditioner in the winter is because doing so can trap moisture—which is not at all what you want in your outdoor unit. That’s because allowing moisture to collect inside the unit generates the perfect conditions for mold and mildew to spread.

Mold and mildew not only have a bad odor, but they can also pose health risks, especially for individuals with respiratory issues or allergies. Additionally, the excess moisture can corrode the internal components of the AC unit.

As an alternative to covering the unit, instead make sure the unit has proper drainage and keep the area around the unit cleared of debris, allowing for efficient airflow and preventing moisture buildup.

3. A Covered Air Conditioner Can Attract Animals

People aren’t the only ones who make plans for winter. Animals that live around your home are also hunting for a warm, cozy place to hide out for the cold months. For many animals, a covered air conditioner is an awesome winter refuge.

Birds, mice, chipmunks and even rats commonly make nests inside covered air conditioners. Animals living in a covered AC unit can cause several problems. Mice can chew through wires, insulation and other parts, causing damage that may require pricey repairs. Debris animals bring into the AC to construct a warm and comfortable home can impair airflow and ventilation, reducing the efficiency of the appliance and potentially causing it to overheat. In addition, animal excrement can result in unsanitary conditions and foul odors.

Leaving your air conditioner uncovered helps dissuade creatures, because an uncovered AC provides less shelter from the elements than a covered unit. That’s better for your air conditioner—and leaves you with less mess to clean up and things to repair once the snow melts.

4. An AC Cover Restricts Airflow

Another reason it’s better that you don’t cover your air conditioner in the winter is because a cover limits airflow through the unit. Proper airflow is essential for the AC system because it facilitates heat exchange and allows the unit to cool effectively. When airflow is restricted, the system has to work harder to reach the desired temperature, causing increased energy consumption and strain on the components.

In addition, if you run your air conditioning without knowing that the exterior unit is covered or because you simply forgot, it could result in a range of problems. One issue is that the absence of correct airflow could cause the compressor to overheat, leading to its failure or damage.  That’s why it is vital to ensure the outdoor unit has no blockages and is not covered to maintain maximum airflow.

5. AC Maintenance Is More Effective Than Covering Your Air Conditioner

The bottom line is, it’s a lot more effective to do a little maintenance for your air conditioner than to cover your outdoor AC unit.

There are several key maintenance activities you should prioritize to ensure maximum function and longevity of your AC unit. First, it’s smart to check your outdoor AC unit regularly and remove any debris such as leaves, small branches and dirt to maintain proper airflow. Second, inspect and clean the coils, fins and filters to make sure there isn’t any dirt and dust buildup that would impede efficient heat exchange or airflow.

Scheduled air conditioning maintenance not only improves efficiency, but it also helps extend the unit’s life span, reduces energy consumption and avoids costly repairs. Rather than using a cover, investing time and effort into routine air conditioning maintenance is a proactive plan of action that can significantly benefit your entire HVAC system in the long run.