As the sweltering summer heat starts to fade and the relief of fall starts to settle in, residents of Kearney start preparing their homes and yards for the the upcoming cold weather. 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 smart idea, in reality there are multiple 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 Thurston Heating & Air Conditioning share five reasons why covering your air conditioning equipment doesn’t need to be on your fall to-do list and what you should do instead.

1. Your AC can Handle Snow

Outside AC units are designed to withstand harsh weather conditions like snow in the wintertime. These units are built with sturdy 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 crafted to protect the internal parts from moisture and debris.

2. Covering AC Systems can Encourage Mold

One of the reasons you should avoid covering your AC unit in the wintertime is because doing so can trap moisture—which is the opposite of what you want in your outdoor unit. That’s because trapping moisture inside the unit generates the perfect conditions for mold and mildew to spread.

Mold and mildew not only have an undesirable aroma, but they can also create health risks, especially for people with respiratory issues or allergies. Plus, the trapped moisture can corrode the internal components of the AC unit.

As an alternative to 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 Attract Animals

Human beings 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 awesome winter dwelling.

Birds, mice, chipmunks and even rats often make winter dens inside covered air conditioners. Animals living in a covered AC unit can cause several problems. Rats can chew through wires, insulation and other components, causing damage that may require expensive repairs. Debris animals bring into the AC to make themselves a warm and comfortable home can impair airflow and ventilation, lowering the efficiency of the AC and potentially causing it to overheat. In addition, animal waste can result in unsanitary conditions and foul odors.

Leaving your air conditioner uncovered helps dissuade animals, because an uncovered AC provides 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 in the spring.

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 blocks airflow through the unit. Adequate airflow is crucial for the AC system because it helps with heat exchange and permits the unit to cool properly. When airflow is restricted, the system has to work harder to maintain the desired temperature, resulting in increased energy consumption and strain on the components.

In addition, if you run your AC 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 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 free from obstructions and is not covered to maintain the best possible airflow.

5. AC Maintenance Offers More Benefits Than Covering Your Air Conditioner

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

There are several key maintenance activities you should prioritize to ensure optimal function and longevity of your AC unit. First, it’s wise to check your outdoor AC unit regularly and get rid of any debris such as leaves, small branches and dirt to allow proper airflow. Second, inspect 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, decreases energy consumption and protects against costly repairs. Rather than using a cover, investing time and effort into routine air conditioning maintenance is a proactive strategy that can greatly benefit your entire HVAC system in the long run.