As the sweltering summer sun starts to fade and the cooler temperatures of fall starts to settle in, residents of Fredericksburg start preparing their homes and yards for the wintertime. For many, that leads to the question of whether they need to cover their exterior air conditioning unit for the winter.

While it may seem like a smart idea, the truth is there are a number of reasons why you shouldn’t cover your AC unit in the winter. On top of not being something you need to do, covering your outdoor air conditioning equipment can actually cause problems.

Here, the specialists at Childress Heating & AC 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. Your AC can Handle Snow

Outdoor AC units are designed to withstand harsh weather conditions like snow in the winter. These machines are built with sturdy 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 elements from moisture and debris.

2. Covering Your Air Conditioner Can Cause Mold

One of the reasons you should not cover your air conditioner in the cold months 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 flourish.

Mold and mildew not only have an undesirable odor, but they can also create health risks, especially for people with respiratory issues or allergies. Additionally, the unwanted 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

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

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

Leaving your air conditioner uncovered helps discourage animals, because an uncovered AC provides less shelter from chilly temperatures 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. 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. Adequate airflow is essential for the AC system because it helps with heat exchange and enables the unit to cool efficiently. When airflow is severely limited, the system has to work harder to achieve the desired temperature, leading to increased energy consumption and strain on the components.

In addition, if you run your air conditioning without knowing 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 appropriate airflow could cause the compressor to overheat, leading to its failure or damage.  That’s why it is crucial to ensure the outdoor unit is free from blockages and is not covered to maintain maximum airflow.

5. AC Maintenance Works Better Than Covering Your Air Conditioner

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

There are numerous key maintenance activities you should prioritize to ensure optimal performance and longevity of your AC unit. First, it’s smart to inspect your outdoor AC unit regularly and get rid of any debris such as leaves, twigs and dirt to allow 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 improves efficiency, but it also helps extend the unit's life span, lowers 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 substantially benefit your entire HVAC system in the long run.