outdoor HVAC unit covered in snow

As the scorching summer sun starts to fade and the cooler temperatures of fall starts to settle in, residents of Sacramento start preparing their homes and yards for the winter. For many, that leads to the question of whether they ought to cover their outdoor AC 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 needed, covering your outdoor air conditioning equipment can even cause problems.

Here, the specialists at Bishop’s HVAC 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 designed to withstand harsh weather conditions like snow in the winter. These systems are built with durable materials and components 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 parts from moisture and debris.

2. Covering Your Air Conditioner Can Cause Mold

One of the reasons you shouldn’t 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 produces the perfect conditions for mold and mildew to spread.

Mold and mildew not only have an unpleasant odor, but they can also create health risks, especially for individuals with respiratory issues or allergies. Also, the unwanted 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 clear of debris, allowing for efficient airflow and preventing moisture buildup.

3. Your Covered Air Conditioning Unit Can Host Animals

Human beings 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 live for the wintry months. For many creatures, a covered air conditioner is an ideal winter home.

Birds, mice, chipmunks and even rats frequently make homes inside covered air conditioners. Animals dwelling in a covered air conditioner can cause many problems. Mice can chew through wires, insulation and other components, causing damage that may require costly repairs. Debris animals bring into the AC to make themselves a warm and comfortable nest can impair airflow and ventilation, limiting the efficiency of the appliance and potentially causing it to overheat. Additionally, animal excrement can result in unsanitary conditions and bad odors.

Leaving your air conditioner uncovered helps discourage animals, 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 clean up and things to repair in the spring.

4. Covering Your Air Conditioner Restricts Airflow

Another reason not to cover your AC unit in the winter is because a cover restricts airflow through the unit. Proper airflow is essential for the AC system because it assists heat exchange and enables the unit to cool properly. When airflow is restricted, the system has to work harder to maintain the desired temperature, leading to greater 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 lack 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 blockages 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 lot more effective to do a little maintenance for your air conditioner than to cover your exterior AC unit.

There are several key maintenance tasks you should prioritize to ensure maximum function and longevity of your AC unit. First, it’s wise to examine your outdoor AC unit regularly and remove any debris such as leaves, small branches and dirt to allow proper airflow. Second, examine and clean the coils, fins and filters to make sure they are free from dirt and dust buildup that would impede efficient heat exchange or airflow.

Scheduled air conditioning maintenance not only enhances efficiency, but it also helps extend the unit's life span, reduces 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.