As the sweltering summer sunshine starts to fade and the refreshingly cool weather of fall starts to settle in, residents of Athol start preparing their homes and yards for the wintertime. For many, that leads to the question of whether they need to cover their outside air conditioning unit for the winter.

While it may seem like a good idea, in reality there are several reasons why you shouldn’t cover your AC unit in the winter. In addition to not being needed, covering your outdoor air conditioning equipment can actually cause problems.

Here, the specialists at Alpine Summit 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 supposed to withstand harsh weather conditions like snow in the winter. These systems are built with solid materials and parts that can handle the outdoor elements without damage. The coils and fins of the unit are specially developed to resist corrosion, and the housing is manufactured to protect the internal components 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 definitely not 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 undesirable odor, but they can also present health risks, especially for household residents with respiratory issues or allergies. Plus, the trapped moisture can corrode the internal components of the AC unit.

Instead of covering the unit, instead make sure the unit has 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 Host Animals

People aren’t the only ones who prepare for winter. Animals that live around your home are also looking for a warm, cozy place to live for the wintry months. For many critters, a covered air conditioner is an ideal winter refuge.

Birds, mice, chipmunks and even rats often make nests inside covered air conditioners. Animals residing in a covered air conditioning unit can cause several problems. Mice can chew through wires, insulation and other components, causing damage that may require pricey repairs. Debris animals bring into the AC to create a warm and comfortable home can obstruct airflow and ventilation, limiting the efficiency of the appliance and potentially causing it to overheat. Moreover, animal waste can result in unsanitary conditions and potent odors.

Leaving your air conditioner uncovered helps discourage wildlife, because an uncovered AC gives them less shelter from the elements than a covered unit. That’s better for your air conditioner—and leaves you with less mess to clean up and things to repair when winter is over.

4. Covering Your Air Conditioner Restricts Airflow

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

In addition, if you use your air conditioner 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 absence of appropriate airflow could cause the compressor to overheat, resulting in its failure or damage.  That’s why it is vital to ensure the outdoor unit is always cleared of any barriers and is not covered to maintain the best possible 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 projects you should prioritize to ensure optimal operation and longevity of your AC unit. First, it’s a good idea to examine your outdoor AC unit regularly and clear any debris such as leaves, twigs and dirt to maintain proper airflow. Second, check and clean the coils, fins and filters to make sure they are free from dirt and dust buildup that would impede efficient heat exchange or airflow.

Routine air conditioning maintenance not only improves efficiency, but it also helps extend the unit's life span, reduces energy consumption and avoids costly repairs. Rather than using a cover, putting time and effort into routine air conditioning maintenance is a proactive strategy that can significantly benefit your entire HVAC system in the long run.