As the sweltering summer heat starts to fade and the relief of fall starts to settle in, residents of West Columbia start preparing their homes and yards for the winter. For many, that leads to the question of whether they need to cover their exterior air conditioning unit for the winter.

While it may seem like a great idea, in reality there are multiple 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 professionals at Tri City Fuel & Heating share five reasons why covering your AC 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 built to withstand harsh weather conditions like snow in the wintertime. These machines 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 designed to protect the internal elements from moisture and debris.

2. Covering Your Air Conditioner Can Cause Mold

One of the reasons you should avoid covering your air conditioner in the cold months is because doing so can trap moisture—which is not at all what you want in your outdoor unit. That’s because allowing moisture to collect inside the unit produces the perfect conditions for mold and mildew to flourish.

Mold and mildew not only have a bad aroma, but they can also pose health risks, especially for individuals with respiratory issues or allergies. Additionally, the unwanted moisture can corrode the internal components of the AC unit.

Rather than 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. A Covered Air Conditioner Can Host Animals

Humans 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 cold months. For many creatures, a covered air conditioner is an ideal winter home.

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

Leaving your air conditioner uncovered helps dissuade wildlife, because an uncovered AC offers less shelter from cold weather than a covered unit. That’s better for your air conditioner—and leaves you with less mess to throw away and things to repair once the snow melts.

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 restricts airflow through the unit. Suitable airflow is essential for the AC system because it facilitates heat exchange and enables the unit to cool properly. When airflow is reduced, the system has to work harder to achieve the desired temperature, leading to additional energy consumption and strain on the components.

In addition, if you use your AC without knowing that the exterior 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, resulting in its failure or damage.  That’s why it is vital to ensure the outdoor unit is always cleared of any 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 a whole lot more effective to do a little maintenance for your air conditioner than to cover your outdoor AC unit.

There are several key maintenance activities you should prioritize to ensure optimal performance and longevity of your AC unit. First, it’s wise to look at your outdoor AC unit regularly and remove any debris such as leaves, twigs and dirt to promote proper airflow. Second, examine 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 enhances efficiency, but it also helps extend the unit's life span, decreases energy consumption and avoids costly repairs. Rather than using a cover, putting time and effort into routine air conditioning maintenance is a proactive approach that can greatly benefit your entire HVAC system in the long run.