As the sweltering summer heat starts to fade and the relief of fall starts to settle in, residents of Crystal and Twin Cities start preparing their homes and yards for the winter. For many, that leads to the question of whether they need to cover their outdoor air conditioning unit 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 needed, covering your outdoor air conditioning equipment can even cause problems.

Here, the specialists at GV Heating & Air 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

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

2. Covering Your Air Conditioner Can Cause Mold

One of the reasons you should avoid covering your air conditioner 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 allowing moisture to collect inside the unit creates the perfect conditions for mold and mildew to spread.

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

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

3. Your Covered Air Conditioning Unit Can Host Animals

Human beings aren’t the only ones who get ready for winter. Animals that live around your home are also searching for a warm, cozy place to hide out for the cold months. For many creatures, a covered air conditioner is the perfect winter dwelling.

Birds, mice, chipmunks and even rats frequently make homes inside covered air conditioners. Animals residing in a covered air conditioner can cause several problems. Rats can chew through wires, insulation and other connections, causing damage that may require costly repairs. Debris animals bring into the AC to create a warm and comfortable nest can obstruct airflow and ventilation, limiting the efficiency of the unit and potentially causing it to overheat. Additionally, animal waste can result in unsanitary conditions and potent odors.

Leaving your air conditioner uncovered helps discourage wildlife, because an uncovered AC provides less shelter from the elements 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. An AC Cover Restricts Airflow

Another reason you shouldn’t cover your AC unit in the winter is because a cover blocks airflow through the unit. Adequate airflow is essential for the AC system because it helps with heat exchange and enables the unit to cool effectively. When airflow is severely limited, the system has to work harder to maintain the desired temperature, causing increased energy consumption and strain on the components.

In addition, if you turn on your AC without knowing that the outside 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, causing its failure or damage.  That’s why it is crucial to ensure the outdoor unit is always cleared of any blockages and is not covered to maintain the best possible airflow.

5. AC Maintenance Works Better Than Covering Your Air Conditioner

The bottom line is, it’s lots more effective to do a little maintenance for your cooling system than to cover your outdoor AC unit.

There are several key maintenance tasks you should prioritize to ensure optimal operation and longevity of your AC unit. First, it’s smart to inspect your outdoor AC unit regularly and clear any debris such as leaves, small branches and dirt to promote proper airflow. Second, inspect and clean the coils, fins and filters to make sure they are free from dirt and dust buildup that would impede efficient heat exchange or airflow.

Regular air conditioning maintenance not only improves efficiency, but it also helps extend the unit’s life span, decreases energy consumption and prevents costly repairs. Rather than using a cover, committing time and effort into routine air conditioning maintenance is a proactive strategy that can substantially benefit your entire HVAC system in the long run.