As the sweltering summer sun starts to fade and the refreshingly cool weather of fall starts to settle in, residents of Chelan and Wenatchee start preparing their homes and yards for the the upcoming cold weather. For many, that leads to the question of whether they need to cover their outside air conditioner for the winter.

While it may seem like a good idea, the truth is 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 even cause problems.

Here, the specialists at Lakeside Heating & Air share five reasons why covering your air conditioner doesn’t need to be on your fall to-do list and what you should do instead.

1. Snow won't Hurt Your AC

Exterior AC units are designed to withstand harsh weather conditions like snow in the wintertime. These units are built with solid materials and hardware 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 components from moisture and debris.

2. Covering AC Systems can Encourage Mold

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

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

3. Your Covered Air Conditioning Unit 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 awesome winter home.

Birds, mice, chipmunks and even rats often make homes inside covered air conditioners. Animals residing in a covered air conditioner can cause several problems. Rodents can chew through wires, insulation and other connections, causing damage that may require pricey repairs. Debris animals bring into the AC to create a warm and comfortable place to get out of the cold weather 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 dissuade animals, because an uncovered AC provides 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 when winter is over.

4. An AC Cover Restricts Airflow

Another reason you shouldn't cover your AC unit in the winter is because a cover restricts airflow through the unit. Suitable airflow is crucial for the AC system because it facilitates heat exchange and enables the unit to cool efficiently. When airflow is restricted, the system has to work harder to maintain the desired temperature, leading to greater energy consumption and strain on the components.

In addition, if you use your AC without realizing 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 essential to ensure the outdoor unit has no blockages and is not covered to maintain maximum 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 tasks you should prioritize to ensure maximum function and longevity of your AC unit. First, it’s wise to inspect your outdoor AC unit regularly and get rid of any debris such as leaves, small branches and dirt to promote 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 hinder effective 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 plan of action that can significantly benefit your entire HVAC system in the long run.