Snow and Ice are the enemies of outdoor heating and air conditioning units. We have endured some very brutal winters in past years and who knows what the remaining winter months of 2017 will bring?
Whether it’s getting snow off the roof or clearing vents that can block your system from working properly, homeowners need to be aware of the dangers and how to avoid trouble this winter.
HVAC units are built to withstand some snow and ice, but they require air flow to work properly. If you have a heat pump, snow needs to be cleared at least 18 inches around and all snow removed from the top of the unit. If it is covered in snow, it will not work properly and can be damaged if operated in that condition. (It is important to keep the area around the units clear of leaves in the Fall as well!). They need to breathe to function well.
When shoveling out your heat pump condenser, be very careful not to touch the condenser with the shovel. Condensers have a series of delicate fins, some protected by a metal grid. These fins need to be clear of debris, snow and ice and undamaged in order to work. The fins are how the condenser transfer heat, so it is important to treat them with care.
Be sure to fix any gutters that are dripping rain onto the heat pump. This drip can become an icicle that can fall and possibly damage the unit. Be sure not to use a sharp object to remove any ice that forms. You want to avoid damaging the coils and fins.
While you are outside clearing snow and ice from your heat pump condenser, check out your furnace air intake pipes or vents. A vent that is buried in snow is starving your furnace for the air it needs for combustion. If your furnace is continuously trying to start up, but isn’t turning on, the problem may be a blocked outdoor intake and exhaust pipe. The solution is simple. Clear the snow from the intake and exhaust pipe. Turn the furnace off, wait a minute and then turn back on. The unit will reset.
To find where the intake or exhaust pipe and vent are located, go to the furnace and look for a black or white pipe (not the metal heating ducts) going from the furnace to an outside wall. Then go outside to the area where they are exiting the house. In most houses they will stick out a few inches from the basement wall. The pipes may extend up the side of the house and have a curve near the end. Once you’ve located the vent, clear the snow from the area.
Don’t forget to change the furnace filter regularly, more often during winter when the furnace is continually running. A very dirty filter can make your furnace fan work harder and affect your utility bills – and not in a good way. We recommend cleaning or replacing your furnace air filter each month during the heating season. Your furnace will run better and you’ll breathe easier.
The Winter of 2017 has not yet been too much of a problem, relative to snow and ice. But as New Englanders, we know that we haven’t seen the last of winter yet. When the snow flies, be sure you are ready with a plan to do what you can to keep your HVAC equipment operating at optimal levels.