As the sweltering summer sunshine starts to fade and the cooler temperatures of fall starts to settle in, residents of Libertyville 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 outdoor air conditioner 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 something you need to do, covering your outdoor air conditioning equipment can actually cause problems.

Here, the professionals at TopTec 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

Outdoor AC units are built to withstand harsh weather conditions like snow in the winter. These systems are built with solid 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 AC unit in the winter 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 an unpleasant odor, but they can also present health risks, especially for people with respiratory issues or allergies. Plus, 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 cleared of debris, allowing for efficient airflow and preventing moisture buildup.

3. Your Covered Air Conditioning Unit Can Attract Animals

Humans aren’t the only ones who prepare 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 animals, a covered air conditioner is an awesome winter refuge.

Birds, mice, chipmunks and even rats commonly make winter dens inside covered air conditioners. Animals living in a covered air conditioning unit can cause several problems. Rats can chew through wires, insulation and other components, causing damage that may require expensive repairs. Debris animals bring into the AC to construct a warm and comfortable home can obstruct airflow and ventilation, decreasing the efficiency of the appliance and potentially causing it to overheat. Additionally, animal excrement can result in unsanitary conditions and potent odors.

Leaving your air conditioner uncovered helps dissuade creatures, because an uncovered AC gives them less shelter from cold weather than a covered unit. That’s better for your cooling system—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 AC unit in the winter is because a cover restricts airflow through the unit. Adequate airflow is crucial for the AC system because it assists heat exchange and permits the unit to cool effectively. 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 turn on your air conditioner 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, causing its failure or damage.  That’s why it is crucial to ensure the outdoor unit is free from obstructions 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 whole lot more effective to do a little maintenance for your cooling system than to cover your exterior AC unit.

There are numerous key maintenance tasks you should prioritize to ensure maximum performance and longevity of your AC unit. First, it’s wise to inspect your outdoor AC unit regularly and clear any debris such as leaves, small branches and dirt to maintain proper airflow. Second, inspect and clean the coils, fins and filters to make sure there isn't any dirt and dust buildup that would prevent effective heat exchange or airflow.

Scheduled 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, putting time and effort into routine air conditioning maintenance is a proactive plan of action that can substantially benefit your entire HVAC system in the long run.