As the hot summer sun starts to fade and the relief of fall starts to settle in, residents of Lake Forest start preparing their homes and yards for the winter. For many, that leads to the question of whether they ought to cover their exterior AC for the winter.

While it may seem like a smart idea, in reality there are many reasons why you shouldn’t cover your AC unit in the winter. In addition to not being necessary, covering your outdoor air conditioning equipment can sometimes cause problems.

Here, the professionals at 1st Choice Heating & Air Conditioning 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 winter season. These systems are built with durable materials and parts that can handle the outdoor elements without damage. The coils and fins of the unit are engineered to resist corrosion, and the housing is designed to protect the internal parts from moisture and debris.

2. Covering Your Air Conditioner Can Cause Mold

One of the reasons you should not cover your outdoor air conditioning equipment in the cold months is because doing so can trap moisture—which is definitely not what you want in your outdoor unit. That’s because allowing moisture to collect inside the unit creates the perfect conditions for mold and mildew to spread.

Mold and mildew not only have a bad smell, but they can also create health risks, especially for household residents with respiratory issues or allergies. Plus, the excess 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. Covered AC Systems Can Host Animals

People aren’t the only ones who get ready for winter. Animals that live around your home are also searching for a warm, cozy place to live for the wintry months. For many critters, a covered air conditioner is an awesome winter home.

Birds, mice, chipmunks and even rats commonly make winter dens inside covered air conditioners. Animals dwelling in a covered air conditioning unit can cause many problems. Rodents can chew through wires, insulation and other connections, causing damage that may require costly repairs. Debris animals bring into the AC to create a warm and comfortable home can obstruct airflow and ventilation, limiting the efficiency of the AC and potentially causing it to overheat. Additionally, animal waste can result in unsanitary conditions and foul odors.

Leaving your air conditioner uncovered helps deter animals, because an uncovered AC offers less shelter from chilly temperatures than a covered unit. That’s better for your air conditioner—and leaves you with less mess to clean up and things to repair once the snow melts.

4. A Winter Cover for AC Units Restricts Airflow

Another reason it's better that you don't cover your air conditioner in the winter is because a cover limits airflow through the unit. Adequate airflow is crucial for the AC system because it assists heat exchange and enables the unit to cool properly. When airflow is reduced, the system has to work harder to maintain the desired temperature, leading to additional energy consumption and strain on the components.

In addition, if you use your AC without realizing that the outside unit is covered or because you simply forgot, it could result in a range of problems. One issue is that the shortage of appropriate airflow could cause the compressor to overheat, resulting in its failure or damage.  That’s why it is crucial to ensure the outdoor unit has no barriers and is not covered to maintain maximum airflow.

5. AC Maintenance Offers More Benefits Than Covering Your Air Conditioner

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

There are several key maintenance projects you should prioritize to ensure optimal performance and longevity of your AC unit. First, it’s smart to look at your outdoor AC unit regularly and clear any debris such as leaves, twigs and dirt to maintain proper airflow. Second, inspect and clean the coils, fins and filters to make sure you don't see any dirt and dust buildup that would prevent efficient heat exchange or airflow.

Routine air conditioning maintenance not only boosts efficiency, but it also helps extend the unit's life span, lowers energy consumption and protects against 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.