The Impact of Snow and Ice on Your Home Heating and Cooling System

By: Brian Schutt  |  January 24, 2018

We’ve already covered how to prepare your home for cold temperatures, but do you know the potential impact snow and ice can have on your HVAC system? Follow our tips below to avoid replacing your furnace before it’s absolutely necessary.

How Winter Conditions Affect Your HVAC Unit

There are several ways that snow and ice can damage your home heating and cooling system:

  • Snow and Ice Build Up: When snow and ice surround your unit, this could cause your system to freeze and trigger an emergency shutdown. As a result, the heat to your home will be cut-off, and your waterpipes could be in trouble.
  • Blocking the Exhaust: Too much snow could block your furnace exhaust. This may prevent your unit from working, or even worse, allow harmful chemicals like carbon monoxide to come into your home. Most furnaces will have a safety switch shut down your unit if it becomes blocked.
  • Damage to Your Outdoor Unit: Icicles that accumulate above your outdoor HVAC unit may fall and damage your system. This damage can be fairly extensive and lead to expensive replacements.
  • Ventilation Blockage and Leakage: Too much snow and ice build-up can block ventilation, preventing your system from working correctly. Additionally, this build-up can cause your pipes to leak and not work correctly.
  • Corrosion and Rust Build-Up: Melting snow can cause water to leak into your system, freeze again, and expand — leading to corrosion and rust build-up throughout your HVAC unit.

Protecting Your HVAC System

Ultimately, the winter season makes your HVAC unit work twice as hard. Airflow is often limited, which could result in your unit short circuiting or burning out faster than you expected. Here are our top tips for protecting your HVAC system this season and prolonging its lifespan:

  • Proper Installation of Heat Pump: If your home uses the outdoor system in the winter, it means it is a heat pump. Insure the installation technician, sets your outdoor unit far enough above average snowfall (6-10 inches) instead of directly on the ground. This will be done usually with plastic legs called “pump ups” in the industry. Additionally, the unit should be 18 inches (or more) away from the outside wall, in order to increase air passage and avoid drifting exposure.
  • Cover Your A/C Unit: If your outdoor system doesn’t run during the winter, you have a normal air conditioner. Covering your unit will protect it, as long as you allow enough room for air to circulate near the unit. Consider building a small roof or freestanding structure around your unit to shelter it from the elements. You can also use shrubs or fencing to build a wind barrier, but allow enough room for servicing the unit.

    Pro Tip: Also cover your water pipes if they are exposed to extremely cold temperatures.

  • Clear Away Debris: Shovel away snow build-up as it accumulates. Clean and inspect your gutters often to make sure they aren’t dripping onto your unit. Melt away ice from your unit using warm water.
  • Check Your Filters Regularly: A clogged filter will restrict airflow and could result in an inefficient HVAC unit that doesn’t heat up to your desired temperature. Airflow matters, so change your filter early and often. Even if you’ve changed it recently, if you have airflow issues, you’ll quickly have furnace issues.
  • Hire an HVAC Technician: Getting your unit maintained regularly can prevent costly damage in the dead of winter.

Above all, adjust your expectations this time of year. Your HVAC unit is designed to meet full capacity on the majority of cold days, not all cold days. Chances are, your furnace and ductwork are not sized to meet the demands of a below zero outdoor air temperature.

If you do experience issues, or have any questions about your HVAC unit, give us a call. Whether your HVAC issues are caused by snow, ice, or some other issue, we are happy to help keep you and your family warm this winter.

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