As the sweltering summer sunshine starts to fade and the relief of fall starts to settle in, residents of Frederick start preparing their homes and yards for the winter. For many, that leads to the question of whether they need to cover their outdoor air conditioning unit for the winter.

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

Here, the specialists at May's Heating & Air share five reasons why covering your AC 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 solid 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 manufactured to protect the internal elements from moisture and debris.

2. Covering AC Systems can Encourage Mold

One of the reasons you should avoid covering your air conditioner in the cold months is because doing so can trap moisture—which is not at all what you want in your outdoor unit. That’s because sealing moisture inside the unit creates the perfect conditions for mold and mildew to spread.

Mold and mildew not only have an unpleasant aroma, but they can also pose health risks, especially for people with respiratory issues or allergies. Also, 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 clear of debris, allowing for efficient airflow and preventing moisture buildup.

3. A Covered Air Conditioner Can Host Animals

You and your family 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 crash for the cold months. For many creatures, a covered air conditioner is the perfect winter refuge.

Birds, mice, chipmunks and even rats frequently make winter dens inside covered air conditioners. Animals residing in a covered air conditioner can cause numerous problems. Rodents can chew through wires, insulation and other connections, causing damage that may require pricey repairs. Debris animals bring into the AC to create a warm and comfortable bed can impair airflow and ventilation, reducing 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 creatures, because an uncovered AC gives them less shelter from cold weather than a covered unit. That’s better for your cooling system—and leaves you with less mess to pick up and things to repair once the snow melts.

4. Covering Your Air Conditioner Restricts Airflow

Another reason it’s better that you don’t cover your AC unit in the winter is because a cover restricts airflow through the unit. Suitable airflow is essential for the AC system because it facilitates heat exchange and allows the unit to cool effectively. When airflow is constrained, the system has to work harder to achieve the desired temperature, resulting in additional energy consumption and strain on the components.

In addition, if you run your AC without realizing that the exterior unit is covered or because you simply forgot, it could result in a range of problems. One issue is that the absence 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 obstructions 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 whole lot more effective to do a little maintenance for your air conditioner than to cover your outside AC unit.

There are several key maintenance projects you should prioritize to ensure maximum function and longevity of your AC unit. First, it’s a good idea to look at your outdoor AC unit regularly and clear any debris such as leaves, sticks and dirt to maintain proper airflow. Second, examine 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, decreases energy consumption and protects against costly repairs. Rather than using a cover, committing time and effort into routine air conditioning maintenance is a proactive strategy that can significantly benefit your entire HVAC system in the long run.