As the hot summer sunshine starts to fade and the relief of fall starts to settle in, residents of Buellton 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 exterior air conditioner for the winter.

While it may seem like a good idea, in reality there are many 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 actually cause problems.

Here, the professionals at Allstar Heating & Air Conditioning 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 built to withstand harsh weather conditions like snow in the winter season. 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 engineered to resist corrosion, and the housing is crafted to protect the internal elements from moisture and debris.

2. Covered AC Systems may Encourage Mold Growth

One of the reasons you shouldn’t cover your outdoor air conditioning equipment 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 produces the perfect conditions for mold and mildew to thrive.

Mold and mildew not only have an undesirable odor, but they can also create health risks, especially for household residents with respiratory issues or allergies. Plus, the trapped moisture can corrode the internal components of the AC unit.

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

3. A Covered Air Conditioner Can Host Animals

People 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 live for the wintry months. For many critters, a covered air conditioner is the perfect winter dwelling.

Birds, mice, chipmunks and even rats commonly make homes inside covered air conditioners. Animals dwelling in a covered air conditioning unit can cause numerous problems. Rats can chew through wires, insulation and other connections, causing damage that may require costly repairs. Debris animals bring into the AC to construct a warm and comfortable home can block airflow and ventilation, decreasing the efficiency of the unit and potentially causing it to overheat. In addition, animal excrement can result in unsanitary conditions and potent odors.

Leaving your air conditioner uncovered helps dissuade creatures, because an uncovered AC gives them less shelter from chilly temperatures than a covered unit. That’s better for your AC—and leaves you with less mess to pick up and things to repair in the spring.

4. An AC Cover Restricts Airflow

Another reason you shouldn't cover your air conditioner in the winter is because a cover blocks airflow through the unit. Adequate airflow is essential for the AC system because it facilitates heat exchange and allows the unit to cool properly. When airflow is restricted, the system has to work harder to reach the desired temperature, leading to greater energy consumption and strain on the components.

In addition, if you run 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 shortage of proper 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 always cleared of any barriers and is not covered to maintain optimal 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 exterior AC unit.

There are numerous key maintenance projects you should prioritize to ensure maximum performance and longevity of your AC unit. First, it’s a good idea to inspect your outdoor AC unit regularly and pull out any debris such as leaves, sticks and dirt to maintain 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 successful 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 avoids costly repairs. Rather than using a cover, committing time and effort into routine air conditioning maintenance is a proactive approach that can greatly benefit your entire HVAC system in the long run.