As the hot summer sun starts to fade and the cooler temperatures of fall starts to settle in, residents of Pella 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 conditioning unit for the winter.

While it may seem like a smart idea, the fact is there are many reasons why you shouldn’t cover your AC unit in the winter. On top of not being needed, covering your outdoor air conditioning equipment can actually cause problems.

Here, the professionals at Van Haaften Plumbing & Heating 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 sturdy materials and hardware that can handle the outdoor elements without damage. The coils and fins of the unit are engineered to resist corrosion, and the housing is crafted to protect the internal parts 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 winter 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 creates the perfect conditions for mold and mildew to flourish.

Mold and mildew not only have an undesirable smell, but they can also pose health risks, especially for household residents with respiratory issues or allergies. Also, the unwanted 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 clear of debris, allowing for efficient airflow and preventing moisture buildup.

3. A Covered Air Conditioner Can Attract Animals

Humans aren’t the only ones who make plans for winter. Animals that live around your home are also searching for a warm, cozy place to hide out for the cold months. For many critters, a covered air conditioner is an ideal winter dwelling.

Birds, mice, chipmunks and even rats frequently make homes inside covered air conditioners. Animals residing in a covered air conditioner can cause many problems. Rats 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 bed can block airflow and ventilation, limiting the efficiency of the appliance and potentially causing it to overheat. In addition, animal excrement can result in unsanitary conditions and bad odors.

Leaving your air conditioner uncovered helps deter wildlife, because an uncovered AC offers less shelter from the elements than a covered unit. That’s better for your air conditioner—and leaves you with less mess to throw away and things to repair in the spring.

4. A Winter Cover for AC Units Restricts Airflow

Another reason not to cover your AC unit in the winter is because a cover limits airflow through the unit. Suitable airflow is crucial for the AC system because it assists heat exchange and allows the unit to cool efficiently. When airflow is constrained, the system has to work harder to achieve the desired temperature, resulting in increased energy consumption and strain on the components.

In addition, if you use your air conditioner 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, leading to its failure or damage.  That’s why it is necessary to ensure the outdoor unit has no barriers and is not covered to maintain optimal airflow.

5. AC Maintenance Works Better Than Covering Your Air Conditioner

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

There are a number of key maintenance activities you should prioritize to ensure optimal operation and longevity of your AC unit. First, it’s smart to check your outdoor AC unit regularly and get rid of any debris such as leaves, twigs and dirt to promote 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.

Regular air conditioning maintenance not only enhances efficiency, but it also helps extend the unit's life span, lowers 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 greatly benefit your entire HVAC system in the long run.