As the scorching summer sunshine starts to fade and the refreshingly cool weather of fall starts to settle in, residents of Rapid City start preparing their homes and yards for the winter. For many, that leads to the question of whether they should cover their outdoor air conditioning unit for the winter.

While it may seem like a great idea, the reality 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 even cause problems.

Here, the professionals at Precision Mechanical 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. Snow won't Hurt Your AC

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 specially developed to resist corrosion, and the housing is manufactured to protect the internal components 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 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 odor, but they can also present health risks, especially for household residents with respiratory issues or allergies. Also, the excess moisture can corrode the internal components of the AC unit.

As an alternative to covering the unit, instead ensure 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 Attract Animals

Human beings aren’t the only ones who get ready for winter. Animals that live around your home are also looking for a warm, cozy place to live for the cold months. For many critters, a covered air conditioner is the perfect winter home.

Birds, mice, chipmunks and even rats often make homes inside covered air conditioners. Animals living in a covered AC unit can cause several problems. Mice can chew through wires, insulation and other parts, 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, reducing 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 offers less shelter from the elements than a covered unit. That’s better for your air conditioner—and leaves you with less mess to pick up and things to repair once the snow melts.

4. An AC Cover Restricts Airflow

Another reason not to cover your air conditioner 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 efficiently. When airflow is severely limited, the system has to work harder to achieve the desired temperature, leading to increased energy consumption and strain on the components.

In addition, if you run your air conditioning without noticing that the outdoor unit is covered or because you simply forgot, it could result in a range of problems. One issue is that the absence of correct airflow could cause the compressor to overheat, leading to its failure or damage.  That’s why it is vital to ensure the outdoor unit is free from obstructions 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 a whole lot more effective to do a little maintenance for your cooling system than to cover your exterior AC unit.

There are several key maintenance activities you should prioritize to ensure optimal performance and longevity of your AC unit. First, it’s smart to check your outdoor AC unit regularly and remove any debris such as leaves, twigs and dirt to promote proper airflow. Second, inspect and clean the coils, fins and filters to make sure they are free from dirt and dust buildup that would prevent efficient heat exchange or airflow.

Routine air conditioning maintenance not only improves efficiency, but it also helps extend the unit's life span, reduces energy consumption and prevents 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.