As the hot summer sunshine starts to fade and the refreshingly cool weather of fall starts to settle in, residents of Manassas 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, the fact is there are several reasons why you shouldn’t cover your AC unit in the winter. On top of not being something you need to do, covering your outdoor air conditioning equipment can even cause problems.

Here, the specialists at Fire & Ice HVAC 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. Snow won't Hurt Your AC

Outdoor AC units are supposed to withstand harsh weather conditions like snow in the wintertime. These units 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 designed 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 air conditioner in the wintertime 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 spread.

Mold and mildew not only have a bad odor, but they can also pose 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 clear 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 prepare for winter. Animals that live around your home are also hunting for a warm, cozy place to crash for the wintry months. For many critters, a covered air conditioner is an ideal winter refuge.

Birds, mice, chipmunks and even rats frequently make homes inside covered air conditioners. Animals living in a covered air conditioner can cause many problems. Rodents can chew through wires, insulation and other parts, causing damage that may require costly repairs. Debris animals bring into the AC to create a warm and comfortable place to get out of the cold weather can impair airflow and ventilation, reducing the efficiency of the unit and potentially causing it to overheat. Moreover, animal excrement can result in unsanitary conditions and potent odors.

Leaving your air conditioner uncovered helps deter animals, because an uncovered AC offers less shelter from cold weather than a covered unit. That’s better for your AC—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 you shouldn't cover your air conditioner in the winter is because a cover restricts airflow through the unit. Suitable airflow is vital for the AC system because it facilitates heat exchange and enables the unit to cool effectively. When airflow is severely limited, the system has to work harder to achieve the desired temperature, leading to greater energy consumption and strain on the components.

In addition, if you run your air conditioner without noticing 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 proper airflow could cause the compressor to overheat, resulting in its failure or damage.  That’s why it is essential to ensure the outdoor unit is free from obstructions 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 a whole lot more effective to do a little maintenance for your air conditioner than to cover your outdoor AC unit.

There are a number of key maintenance projects you should prioritize to ensure optimal operation and longevity of your AC unit. First, it’s a good idea to inspect your outdoor AC unit regularly and pull out any debris such as leaves, sticks and dirt to allow proper airflow. Second, check and clean the coils, fins and filters to make sure you don't see any dirt and dust buildup that would impede successful heat exchange or airflow.

Regular 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.