As the scorching summer sun starts to fade and the relief of fall starts to settle in, residents of Ballwin and St. Charles start preparing their homes and yards for the the upcoming cold weather. For many, that leads to the question of whether they need to cover their outside air conditioner for the winter.

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

Here, the professionals at Air Alliance Team share five reasons why covering your air conditioner 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

Outside AC units are designed to withstand harsh weather conditions like snow in the winter. These machines are built with solid materials and parts 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 designed to protect the internal elements from moisture and debris.

2. Covering AC Systems can Encourage Mold

One of the reasons you should avoid covering your AC unit in the cold months is because doing so can trap moisture—which is definitely not what you want in your outdoor unit. That’s because allowing moisture to collect inside the unit creates the perfect conditions for mold and mildew to thrive.

Mold and mildew not only have an unpleasant aroma, but they can also present health risks, especially for household residents with respiratory issues or allergies. Additionally, the unwanted 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 cleared of debris, allowing for efficient airflow and preventing moisture buildup.

3. A Covered Air Conditioner Can Host Animals

Humans aren’t the only ones who prepare for winter. Animals that live around your home are also searching for a warm, cozy place to crash for the cold months. For many animals, a covered air conditioner is an ideal winter refuge.

Birds, mice, chipmunks and even rats commonly make nests inside covered air conditioners. Animals dwelling in a covered air conditioner can cause many problems. Mice can chew through wires, insulation and other components, causing damage that may require costly repairs. Debris animals bring into the AC to create a warm and comfortable bed can obstruct airflow and ventilation, lowering the efficiency of the appliance and potentially causing it to overheat. In addition, animal droppings can result in unsanitary conditions and foul odors.

Leaving your air conditioner uncovered helps deter wildlife, because an uncovered AC gives them less shelter from the elements than a covered unit. That’s better for your air conditioner—and leaves you with less mess to throw away and things to repair when winter is over.

4. An AC Cover Restricts Airflow

Another reason not to cover your AC unit in the winter is because a cover restricts airflow through the unit. Adequate airflow is essential for the AC system because it assists heat exchange and permits the unit to cool efficiently. When airflow is restricted, the system has to work harder to achieve the desired temperature, resulting in additional energy consumption and strain on the components.

In addition, if you turn on your AC without realizing that the outdoor unit is covered or because you simply forgot, it could result in a range of problems. One issue is that the lack of appropriate 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 barriers and is not covered to maintain the best possible 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 a number of key maintenance activities you should prioritize to ensure optimal function and longevity of your AC unit. First, it’s smart to check your outdoor AC unit regularly and clear any debris such as leaves, twigs and dirt to promote proper airflow. Second, inspect and clean the coils, fins and filters to make sure you don't see 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, lowers energy consumption and protects against costly repairs. Rather than using a cover, putting time and effort into routine air conditioning maintenance is a proactive approach that can substantially benefit your entire HVAC system in the long run.