As the scorching summer sunshine starts to fade and the refreshingly cool weather of fall starts to settle in, residents of Lexington start preparing their homes and yards for the winter. For many, that leads to the question of whether they should cover their outside AC 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. On top of not being necessary, covering your outdoor air conditioning equipment can sometimes cause problems.

Here, the specialists at James Heating & A/C, Inc 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. Snow won't Hurt Your AC

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

2. Covering AC Systems can Encourage Mold

One of the reasons you shouldn’t cover your outdoor air conditioning equipment 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 produces the perfect conditions for mold and mildew to thrive.

Mold and mildew not only have an unpleasant odor, but they can also present health risks, especially for individuals 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 clean of debris, allowing for efficient airflow and preventing moisture buildup.

3. Covered AC Systems Can Attract Animals

You and your family aren’t the only ones who get ready for winter. Animals that live around your home are also hunting for a warm, cozy place to crash for the wintry months. For many creatures, a covered air conditioner is the perfect winter home.

Birds, mice, chipmunks and even rats commonly make winter dens inside covered air conditioners. Animals living in a covered air conditioner can cause numerous problems. Mice can chew through wires, insulation and other parts, causing damage that may require costly repairs. Debris animals bring into the AC to make themselves a warm and comfortable nest can impair airflow and ventilation, reducing 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 wildlife, 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 pick up and things to repair in the spring.

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 blocks airflow through the unit. Adequate airflow is crucial for the AC system because it assists heat exchange and allows the unit to cool effectively. When airflow is reduced, the system has to work harder to maintain the desired temperature, causing increased energy consumption and strain on the components.

In addition, if you turn on your air conditioning without knowing that the outside unit is covered or because you simply forgot, it could result in a range of problems. One issue is that the shortage of appropriate airflow could cause the compressor to overheat, leading to 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 maximum airflow.

5. AC Maintenance Works Better Than Covering Your Air Conditioner

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

There are several key maintenance tasks you should prioritize to ensure maximum function and longevity of your AC unit. First, it’s wise to check your outdoor AC unit regularly and remove any debris such as leaves, twigs and dirt to promote proper airflow. Second, check and clean the coils, fins and filters to make sure there isn't any dirt and dust buildup that would prevent 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 protects against costly repairs. Rather than using a cover, committing time and effort into routine air conditioning maintenance is a proactive plan of action that can significantly benefit your entire HVAC system in the long run.