As the sweltering summer heat starts to fade and the cooler temperatures of fall starts to settle in, residents of Greater Richmond start preparing their homes and yards for the winter. For many, that leads to the question of whether they should cover their outside air conditioner for the winter.

While it may seem like a good idea, the truth is there are many reasons why you shouldn’t cover your AC unit in the winter. Along with not being needed, covering your outdoor air conditioning equipment can even cause problems.

Here, the specialists at Herman Allen Plumbing, 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

Outdoor AC units are designed to withstand harsh weather conditions like snow in the wintertime. These systems are built with solid 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 crafted to protect the internal elements from moisture and debris.

2. Covered AC Systems may Encourage Mold Growth

One of the reasons you should avoid covering your AC unit 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 sealing moisture inside the unit creates the perfect conditions for mold and mildew to thrive.

Mold and mildew not only have an undesirable aroma, but they can also present health risks, especially for individuals with respiratory issues or allergies. Additionally, the excess 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

You and your family aren’t the only ones who prepare for winter. Animals that live around your home are also looking for a warm, cozy place to hide out for the wintry months. For many animals, a covered air conditioner is an ideal 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 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 home can impair airflow and ventilation, lowering the efficiency of the unit and potentially causing it to overheat. Moreover, animal droppings can result in unsanitary conditions and potent odors.

Leaving your air conditioner uncovered helps dissuade wildlife, because an uncovered AC provides 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 conditioner in the winter is because a cover limits airflow through the unit. Adequate airflow is essential for the AC system because it assists heat exchange and permits the unit to cool effectively. 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 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, causing its failure or damage.  That’s why it is vital to ensure the outdoor unit is free from obstructions 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 much more effective to do a little maintenance for your air conditioner than to cover your outdoor AC unit.

There are numerous key maintenance projects you should prioritize to ensure maximum function and longevity of your AC unit. First, it’s a good idea to examine your outdoor AC unit regularly and get rid of any debris such as leaves, twigs and dirt to allow proper airflow. Second, examine and clean the coils, fins and filters to make sure they are free from dirt and dust buildup that would impede effective heat exchange or airflow.

Scheduled 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.