As the sweltering summer sunshine starts to fade and the cooler temperatures of fall starts to settle in, residents of Richmond start preparing their homes and yards for the the upcoming cold weather. For many, that leads to the question of whether they ought to cover their exterior AC for the winter.

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

Here, the specialists at Refrigeration Systems Ltd. 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 season. These machines are built with sturdy materials and parts 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. Covered AC Systems may Encourage Mold Growth

One of the reasons you shouldn’t cover your AC unit in the wintertime is because doing so can trap moisture—which is not at all what you want in your outdoor unit. That’s because allowing moisture to collect inside the unit generates the perfect conditions for mold and mildew to thrive.

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

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

3. Covered AC Systems Can Host Animals

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

Birds, mice, chipmunks and even rats commonly make nests inside covered air conditioners. Animals living in a covered AC unit can cause many problems. Rodents can chew through wires, insulation and other parts, 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, reducing the efficiency of the unit and potentially causing it to overheat. In addition, animal excrement can result in unsanitary conditions and foul odors.

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

4. Covering Your Air Conditioner Restricts Airflow

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

In addition, if you run your air conditioner 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 appropriate airflow could cause the compressor to overheat, resulting in its failure or damage.  That’s why it is vital to ensure the outdoor unit has no barriers and is not covered to maintain optimal airflow.

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

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

There are numerous key maintenance tasks you should prioritize to ensure maximum operation and longevity of your AC unit. First, it’s smart to look at your outdoor AC unit regularly and get rid of any debris such as leaves, sticks 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 impede 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 prevents costly repairs. Rather than using a cover, committing 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.