And What to Do to Prevent Them From Happening
“Ha ha ha!” That’s the sound of Midwesterners laughing in the face of winter weather. Our hardy ancestors found this giant, frequently frozen patch of prairie just to their liking – and so do we.
Midwesterners of the 19th century didn’t have to worry about snow and ice damaging their heating and cooling systems for reasons we don’t have to explain. You, on the other hand, should be aware of the ways in which frozen water can harm your HVAC system, because there are things you can do to prevent them!
Snow and Ice Can Suffocate a Heat Pump
The purpose of a heat pump is simple: transfer warm air indoors during the cold months, and transfer cool air indoors during the warm months. It’s normal for a heat pump’s outdoor coil to frost over during certain times of the year. The unit’s built-in deicing feature should be able to handle it. But when the entire unit becomes encased in ice and snow, it can no longer transfer heat between its refrigerant and the surrounding air. The resultant damage to the fan blades and outdoor coil may be so extensive that the heat pump is effectively destroyed.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If your heat pump’s outdoor unit is surrounded by snow, turn off the circuit breaker that feeds it power and wipe all that snow away with your hands. (Do not use tools, as they can damage the unit’s sensitive components.) You may also consider building a little wood or PVC shelter for your heat pump, so long as you make certain not to encroach on the space the machine requires to function correctly.
Ice Can Warp a Central Air Conditioner’s Condenser Coil
Your central AC unit contains a condenser coil, which receives heat that was absorbed by the evaporator coil and releases it outside. The condenser coil’s job requires it to be made of thin, relatively fragile metal. Unfortunately, when water accumulates, freezes and expands on the condenser coil, it can permanently damage it.
If any part of your central AC ices up during any time of year, do not attempt to remove that ice with a tool, hair dryer or hot water. Doing so would be like using a belt sander to remove a stain from a silk sheet – you would only wind up doing further damage. When it isn’t freezing outside, you can deice your central AC by switching off the thermostat and turning on the fan. This will allow the AC to defrost itself safely, without risking damage to its sensitive condenser.
Snow and Ice Can Obstruct a Furnace’s Intake and Exhaust Pipes
If you have a furnace, then you have surely already noticed the two PVC pipes sticking out of your house near the ground: one facing downward, the other facing outward. These are your furnace’s intake and exhaust pipes, and they must remain unobstructed in order to ensure that the furnace receives adequate airflow. A blocked intake could prevent the furnace’s burners from firing; a blocked exhaust could cause potentially fatal carbon monoxide to accumulate inside your home!
Here prevention is once again key. Keep an eye on your furnace’s intake and exhaust throughout the winter. If snow accumulates high enough to threaten touching the pipes, use a broom or your hands to gently brush it away. Avoid using a shovel, as the tool is heavy enough to damage the pipes if it knocks against either of them.
Icicles + Gravity = HVAC Damage Waiting to Happen
Do large icicles have a habit of dangling above your heat pump or AC? Any one of those sharp, heavy frozen spears could strike a heat pump or central air unit with enough force to damage its fan, pierce its coil, and cause its refrigerant to leak.
You can take several steps to stop large icicles from forming in the first place. Upgrading the ventilation and insulation in your attic, sealing leaks around your chimney and outtake vents, thoroughly cleaning your gutters each fall, and raking your roof immediately following each snowfall will help to spare your HVAC system’s outdoor appliances from icicle damage. So long as you exercise extreme care, you can also attempt to remove icicles manually before they pose a risk of plummeting.
Regular maintenance will prolong the lifespan of your HVAC system, but it cannot extend it indefinitely. When you need professional HVAC repair or replacement in the greater Sioux Falls, SD area, contact Haugan Heating & Air Conditioning!