As the sweltering summer sun starts to fade and the relief of fall starts to settle in, residents of Rockford start preparing their homes and yards for the wintertime. For many, that leads to the question of whether they ought to cover their outdoor AC for the winter.

While it may seem like a smart idea, the fact is there are several 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 specialists at Temperature Doctors Heating & Cooling 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 can Handle Snow

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

2. Covering Your Air Conditioner Can Cause Mold

One of the reasons you shouldn’t cover your outdoor air conditioning equipment in the winter 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 generates the perfect conditions for mold and mildew to flourish.

Mold and mildew not only have an undesirable odor, but they can also pose health risks, especially for people with respiratory issues or allergies. Plus, the trapped 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 Attract Animals

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

Birds, mice, chipmunks and even rats often make winter dens inside covered air conditioners. Animals living in a covered air conditioning unit can cause numerous problems. Mice 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 place to get out of the cold weather can block airflow and ventilation, reducing the efficiency of the appliance and potentially causing it to overheat. Moreover, 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 the elements than a covered unit. That’s better for your cooling system—and leaves you with less mess to clean up and things to repair once the snow melts.

4. An AC Cover Restricts Airflow

Another reason you shouldn't cover your air conditioning equipment in the winter is because a cover limits airflow through the unit. Proper airflow is crucial for the AC system because it helps with heat exchange and enables the unit to cool properly. When airflow is reduced, the system has to work harder to maintain the desired temperature, leading to greater energy consumption and strain on the components.

In addition, if you turn on your air conditioner without noticing that the outdoor unit is covered or because you simply forgot, it could result in a range of problems. One issue is that the lack of correct 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 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 cooling system than to cover your outside AC unit.

There are several key maintenance projects you should prioritize to ensure the best possible function and longevity of your AC unit. First, it’s a good idea to inspect your outdoor AC unit regularly and remove any debris such as leaves, twigs and dirt to allow proper airflow. Second, check and clean the coils, fins and filters to make sure there isn't any dirt and dust buildup that would hinder successful heat exchange or airflow.

Routine air conditioning maintenance not only boosts 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 plan of action that can greatly benefit your entire HVAC system in the long run.