As the scorching summer heat starts to fade and the refreshingly cool weather of fall starts to settle in, residents of Cambridge 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 outside air conditioning unit for the winter.

While it may seem like a smart idea, the truth is there are many 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 actually cause problems.

Here, the specialists at Pliescott HVAC Services LLC 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

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

2. Covering AC Systems can Encourage Mold

One of the reasons you should not cover your air conditioner in the wintertime 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 produces the perfect conditions for mold and mildew to spread.

Mold and mildew not only have a bad aroma, but they can also create health risks, especially for household residents with respiratory issues or allergies. Also, 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 free of debris, allowing for efficient airflow and preventing moisture buildup.

3. A Covered Air Conditioner Can Attract Animals

People aren’t the only ones who make plans for winter. Animals that live around your home are also hunting for a warm, cozy place to live for the wintry months. For many creatures, a covered air conditioner is an awesome winter refuge.

Birds, mice, chipmunks and even rats frequently make homes inside covered air conditioners. Animals dwelling in a covered air conditioner can cause several problems. Mice can chew through wires, insulation and other connections, causing damage that may require expensive repairs. Debris animals bring into the AC to construct a warm and comfortable bed can obstruct airflow and ventilation, limiting the efficiency of the AC and potentially causing it to overheat. In addition, animal droppings can result in unsanitary conditions and foul odors.

Leaving your air conditioner uncovered helps discourage animals, 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 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 conditioner in the winter is because a cover restricts airflow through the unit. Proper airflow is vital for the AC system because it assists heat exchange and enables the unit to cool effectively. When airflow is severely limited, the system has to work harder to reach the desired temperature, resulting in greater energy consumption and strain on the components.

In addition, if you turn on your air conditioning without knowing that the outdoor unit is covered or because you simply forgot, it could result in a range of problems. One issue is that the lack of appropriate airflow could cause the compressor to overheat, causing its failure or damage.  That’s why it is crucial to ensure the outdoor unit has no 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 much more effective to do a little maintenance for your cooling system than to cover your exterior 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 inspect your outdoor AC unit regularly and remove 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 they are free from dirt and dust buildup that would impede effective 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, investing 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.