As the sweltering summer sunshine starts to fade and the cooler temperatures of fall starts to settle in, residents of Mason City 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 air conditioner for the winter.

While it may seem like a great idea, the fact is there are several 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 professionals at Mechanical Air Systems Co 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

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

2. Covered AC Systems may Encourage Mold Growth

One of the reasons you should not cover your air conditioner in the winter is because doing so can trap moisture—which is not at all what you want in your outdoor unit. That’s because trapping moisture inside the unit generates the perfect conditions for mold and mildew to thrive.

Mold and mildew not only have an unpleasant smell, but they can also create health risks, especially for people 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 provide proper drainage and keep the area around the unit cleared of debris, allowing for efficient airflow and preventing moisture buildup.

3. Your Covered Air Conditioning Unit Can Host Animals

Humans 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 live for the winter months. For many creatures, a covered air conditioner is an awesome winter home.

Birds, mice, chipmunks and even rats often make homes inside covered air conditioners. Animals living in a covered AC unit can cause numerous problems. Mice 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 place to get out of the cold weather can obstruct airflow and ventilation, lowering the efficiency of the unit and potentially causing it to overheat. In addition, animal waste can result in unsanitary conditions and bad odors.

Leaving your air conditioner uncovered helps deter wildlife, because an uncovered AC offers less shelter from the elements than a covered unit. That’s better for your cooling system—and leaves you with less mess to throw away and things to repair once the snow melts.

4. Covering Your Air Conditioner Restricts Airflow

Another reason not to cover your air conditioner in the winter is because a cover blocks airflow through the unit. Proper airflow is essential for the AC system because it helps with heat exchange and allows the unit to cool efficiently. When airflow is severely limited, 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 use your air conditioning 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 absence of appropriate airflow could cause the compressor to overheat, resulting in its failure or damage.  That’s why it is necessary to ensure the outdoor unit is free from 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 outdoor AC unit.

There are a number of key maintenance activities you should prioritize to ensure the best possible performance and longevity of your AC unit. First, it’s wise to check your outdoor AC unit regularly and pull out any debris such as leaves, sticks and dirt to maintain 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 successful heat exchange or airflow.

Scheduled 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, putting 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.