As the scorching summer heat starts to fade and the relief of fall starts to settle in, residents of Auburn and Opelika 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 outdoor air conditioner for the winter.

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

Here, the experts at Farnell Mechanical, Inc. 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. Snow won't Hurt Your AC

Outdoor AC units are supposed 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 engineered to resist corrosion, and the housing is crafted to protect the internal parts from moisture and debris.

2. Covering AC Systems can Encourage Mold

One of the reasons you shouldn’t cover your AC unit in the wintertime is because doing so can trap moisture—which is the opposite of what you want in your outdoor unit. That’s because sealing moisture inside the unit creates the perfect conditions for mold and mildew to flourish.

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

Rather than covering the unit, instead make sure the unit has proper drainage and keep the area around the unit clear of debris, allowing for efficient airflow and preventing moisture buildup.

3. Covered AC Systems 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 hide out for the winter months. For many animals, a covered air conditioner is the perfect winter dwelling.

Birds, mice, chipmunks and even rats often make nests inside covered air conditioners. Animals residing in a covered air conditioning unit can cause numerous problems. Rats can chew through wires, insulation and other components, causing damage that may require pricey repairs. Debris animals bring into the AC to create a warm and comfortable home can obstruct airflow and ventilation, limiting the efficiency of the appliance and potentially causing it to overheat. Additionally, animal droppings can result in unsanitary conditions and bad odors.

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

4. A Winter Cover for AC Units Restricts Airflow

Another reason it's better that you don't cover your air conditioning equipment in the winter is because a cover limits airflow through the unit. Adequate airflow is essential for the AC system because it helps with heat exchange and enables the unit to cool properly. When airflow is restricted, the system has to work harder to reach the desired temperature, causing greater energy consumption and strain on the components.

In addition, if you run your air conditioner without realizing that the exterior unit is covered or because you simply forgot, it could result in a range of problems. One issue is that the lack of proper airflow could cause the compressor to overheat, causing its failure or damage.  That’s why it is vital to ensure the outdoor unit is always cleared of any barriers and is not covered to maintain the best possible airflow.

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

The bottom line is, it's a lot more effective to do a little maintenance for your air conditioning unit than to cover your exterior AC unit.

There are several key maintenance tasks you should prioritize to ensure optimal operation and longevity of your AC unit. First, it’s wise to check your outdoor AC unit regularly and get rid of any debris such as leaves, twigs and dirt to promote proper airflow. Second, check and clean the coils, fins and filters to make sure you don't see any dirt and dust buildup that would prevent successful heat exchange or airflow.

Routine air conditioning maintenance not only enhances 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.