The Impact That Snow and Ice Have On Your Heating and Cooling System

Winter’s bone-chilling temperatures make everything work harder, including your fingers, the car, and your furnace system. In fact, the winter season often means furnaces must work twice as hard to perform as intended, with limited air flow potentially causing short circuits or shortening the unit’s lifespan.

Residents of northern tier states from Maine to Montana know all about the effects of frigid temperatures on mechanical equipment. The best strategy for coping with winter and ensuring efficient furnace operation is preparation, including awareness of snow and ice impact.

Operational roadblocks

One of the biggest issues with snow and ice buildup on an outdoor HVAC unit is frozen internal components can trigger the emergency shut-off. That means no heat to your home and other serious potential problems such as burst water pipes. In warner temps, melting snow can also be trouble if it re-freezes after settling into HVAC systems.

What was that noise?

Ice and snow has a tendency to accumulate on a system’s aluminum fan and coil fins to the point of bending them. This will generate very loud bangs and pops and other concerning noises and if left unattended will eventually break the fins.

Low air flow

Piles of ice and snow are often the culprits in blocking air filters and restricting air flow. This demands extra effort from the system to reach your desired temperature inside the house. Check the filters regularly to ensure clear air passage.

Falling snow and ice

Savvy winter dwellers are well aware of the dangers of huge icicles or mammoth snowdrifts falling from overhead. In addition to personal injury, frozen projectiles plummeting from the roof onto an outdoor HVAC unit can cause major damage, not only to the outer casing but potentially harming critical internal components as well.

Prevention tips

To help your HVAC system work smoothly through the winter, consider the following proven tips:

  • Build a wind barrier around the unit with shrubbery or fences (but allow enough room for air flow and access to service)
  • Keep the unit at least 18” away from the exterior wall
  • Monitor the system and keep snow and ice away, clear overhead snow and ice, and don’t let snow pile up on the unit itself
  • Install the unit 6-10” above the ground to allow a buffer from accumulating snow

For more information on winter operation of heating and cooling systems, contact Cascade Mechanical at (509) 642-6383