As the hot summer heat starts to fade and the relief of fall starts to settle in, residents of Cape Coral 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 exterior air conditioner for the winter.

While it may seem like a smart idea, in reality there are several 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 sometimes cause problems.

Here, the experts at Comfort Zone, LLC 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 supposed to withstand harsh weather conditions like snow in the winter. These systems are built with solid 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 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 outdoor air conditioning equipment in the cold months is because doing so can trap moisture—which is the opposite of 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 thrive.

Mold and mildew not only have a bad smell, but they can also present health risks, especially for household residents with respiratory issues or allergies. Additionally, the trapped moisture can corrode the internal components of the AC unit.

Rather than covering the unit, instead provide 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

You and your family aren’t the only ones who prepare for winter. Animals that live around your home are also looking for a warm, cozy place to live for the cold months. For many animals, a covered air conditioner is an awesome winter refuge.

Birds, mice, chipmunks and even rats frequently make nests inside covered air conditioners. Animals residing in a covered air conditioner can cause many problems. Mice can chew through wires, insulation and other parts, causing damage that may require costly repairs. Debris animals bring into the AC to make themselves a warm and comfortable nest can block airflow and ventilation, lowering the efficiency of the appliance and potentially causing it to overheat. Moreover, animal droppings can result in unsanitary conditions and foul odors.

Leaving your air conditioner uncovered helps discourage wildlife, because an uncovered AC provides less shelter from chilly temperatures than a covered unit. That’s better for your AC—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 restricts airflow through the unit. Suitable airflow is crucial for the AC system because it helps with heat exchange and permits the unit to cool effectively. When airflow is reduced, the system has to work harder to achieve the desired temperature, causing increased energy consumption and strain on the components.

In addition, if you run your air conditioner 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 shortage of correct airflow could cause the compressor to overheat, resulting in its failure or damage.  That’s why it is crucial to ensure the outdoor unit is always cleared of any barriers 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 much more effective to do a little maintenance for your air conditioner than to cover your exterior AC unit.

There are several key maintenance projects you should prioritize to ensure the best possible operation 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 allow proper airflow. Second, examine 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.

Regular air conditioning maintenance not only enhances efficiency, but it also helps extend the unit's life span, decreases energy consumption and prevents 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.