As the scorching summer sun starts to fade and the relief of fall starts to settle in, residents of Columbia start preparing their homes and yards for the wintertime. For many, that leads to the question of whether they ought to cover their outdoor air conditioning unit for the winter.

While it may seem like a great idea, the truth is there are several reasons why you shouldn’t cover your AC unit in the winter. On top of not being necessary, covering your outdoor air conditioning equipment can even cause problems.

Here, the professionals at Watts Electric & AC share five reasons why covering your AC doesn’t need to be on your fall to-do list and what you should do instead.

1. Your AC Unit Isn’t Damaged by Snow

Exterior AC units are built to withstand harsh weather conditions like snow in the winter. These systems are built with sturdy materials and components that can handle the outdoor elements without damage. The coils and fins of the unit are specially developed to resist corrosion, and the housing is crafted to protect the internal elements from moisture and debris.

2. Covering Your Air Conditioner Can Cause Mold

One of the reasons you shouldn’t cover your outdoor air conditioning equipment in the winter is because doing so can trap moisture—which is definitely not what you want in your outdoor unit. That’s because trapping moisture inside the unit generates the perfect conditions for mold and mildew to spread.

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

Instead of covering the unit, instead ensure proper drainage and keep the area around the unit free of debris, allowing for efficient airflow and preventing moisture buildup.

3. Your Covered Air Conditioning Unit Can Attract Animals

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

Birds, mice, chipmunks and even rats commonly make homes inside covered air conditioners. Animals residing in a covered air conditioner can cause many problems. Rats can chew through wires, insulation and other parts, causing damage that may require costly repairs. Debris animals bring into the AC to make themselves a warm and comfortable bed can obstruct airflow and ventilation, decreasing the efficiency of the unit and potentially causing it to overheat. Moreover, animal droppings can result in unsanitary conditions and potent odors.

Leaving your air conditioner uncovered helps discourage animals, because an uncovered AC provides less shelter from cold weather than a covered unit. That’s better for your AC—and leaves you with less mess to clean up and things to repair in the spring.

4. A Winter Cover for AC Units Restricts Airflow

Another reason not to cover your air conditioner in the winter is because a cover limits airflow through the unit. Adequate airflow is vital for the AC system because it helps with heat exchange and enables the unit to cool properly. When airflow is reduced, the system has to work harder to maintain the desired temperature, causing greater energy consumption and strain on the components.

In addition, if you turn on your AC without realizing that the outside unit is covered or because you simply forgot, it could result in a range of problems. One issue is that the shortage of correct airflow could cause the compressor to overheat, leading to its failure or damage.  That’s why it is essential to ensure the outdoor unit is free from obstructions and is not covered to maintain maximum airflow.

5. AC Maintenance Offers More Benefits Than Covering Your Air Conditioner

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

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

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