As the sweltering summer sunshine starts to fade and the relief of fall starts to settle in, residents of Tucson and Phoenix start preparing their homes and yards for the wintertime. For many, that leads to the question of whether they should cover their exterior air conditioning unit for the winter.

While it may seem like a good idea, in reality there are multiple 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 actually cause problems.

Here, the professionals at Desert Husky HVAC/R Services 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 Unit Isn’t Damaged by Snow

Exterior AC units are supposed to withstand harsh weather conditions like snow in the winter. 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 crafted to protect the internal parts from moisture and debris.

2. Covering AC Systems can Encourage Mold

One of the reasons you shouldn’t cover your AC unit 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 trapping moisture inside the unit generates the perfect conditions for mold and mildew to spread.

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. Plus, the trapped moisture can corrode the internal components of the AC unit.

Instead of covering the unit, instead ensure proper drainage and keep the area around the unit free of debris, allowing for efficient airflow and preventing moisture buildup.

3. Covered AC Systems Can Host Animals

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

Birds, mice, chipmunks and even rats frequently make nests inside covered air conditioners. Animals residing in a covered air conditioner can cause many problems. Rats can chew through wires, insulation and other parts, causing damage that may require costly repairs. Debris animals bring into the AC to create a warm and comfortable nest can impair airflow and ventilation, limiting the efficiency of the AC and potentially causing it to overheat. In addition, animal waste can result in unsanitary conditions and potent odors.

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

4. A Winter Cover for AC Units Restricts Airflow

Another reason not to cover your air conditioning equipment in the winter is because a cover limits airflow through the unit. Proper airflow is essential for the AC system because it assists 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 greater energy consumption and strain on the components.

In addition, if you use your air conditioner without knowing 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 proper 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 Works Better 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 outside AC unit.

There are a number of key maintenance tasks you should prioritize to ensure the best possible performance and longevity of your AC unit. First, it’s smart to examine your outdoor AC unit regularly and remove 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 impede efficient heat exchange or airflow.

Regular air conditioning maintenance not only boosts efficiency, but it also helps extend the unit’s life span, decreases energy consumption and avoids costly repairs. Rather than using a cover, committing 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.