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AC Unit with snow on it

HVAC System

Air conditioners and other heat pump HVAC equipment are based around a two-piece design: an indoor unit that does the primary air conditioning work, and an outdoor unit that either expels or collects heat, depending on the job being done. The outdoor unit is built to withstand some pretty harsh conditions: they use durable metals, enclosed designs, sealed motor bearings, and so much more, all to ensure that the system will continue to operate. After all, the elements are harsh on anything left outside.

However, is your air conditioner built to withstand the harshness of winter? Yes, but not without help. In areas where snow, ice, and sub-freezing temperatures are not abnormal, it’s important to protect your HVAC system’s outdoor unit to the best of your ability. Here are three reasons why.

Built-Up Ice Damages Outdoor Units

If you have ever had to carry a flat of water bottles up a flight of stairs, you know one thing is true: water is heavy. As snow melts, it tends to bind together in water form. This water can then re-freeze as a sheet of ice if temperatures are cold enough, creating a block of ice somewhere on your property. This frequently happens on roofs, in gutters, or on metallic surfaces located outdoors, including on your air conditioner. Should any of this ice fall onto your outdoor unit, it could cause some pretty serious damage to it, as well as to any refrigerant lines feeding out to the system as well.

However, ice buildup also causes internal damage as well. If your air conditioner builds up with lingering snow and ice, these snow piles can cause various components to freeze. For example, a frozen coil can’t transfer heat, and thus it can’t keep you warm. Likewise, cold enough temperatures can cause motors to freeze, resulting in your compressor being inoperable for quite a while. It can also cause damage that you may not even realize you have until the next time you turn your air conditioner on.

Rust Destroys Components

Rust is a big problem when it comes to snow and water. Water expedites the oxidation process, particularly when combined with exposure to the oxygen in the air. While some materials are resistant to this corrosion, including copper, they are not rust-proof, and this slow decomposition eventually leads to a coil losing its capacity to operate under pressure and to transfer heat.

Likewise, eventually rust will cause the structural components of your HVAC system to fall apart as well. Even those components that are painted or sealed will eventually succumb to the power of rust, but typically the issues begin in unsealed locations such as fasteners like bolts and screws, as well as the holes they use to keep your system together.

Snow & Ice Limit Airflow

Heat pumps are quickly becoming popular heating systems with a wide range of homeowners. Modern heat pumps are capable of reliably heating a home at peak efficiency in temperatures down as low as the teens in Fahrenheit, well below freezing levels. However, in order to do this, they need to have access to enough heat, and they can only draw this heat from the air around them. Airflow is pivotal for these systems, and snow and ice accumulations block this airflow and prevent these systems from doing their job.

The same can be said for HVAC systems that fill up with snow. If snow sneaks in through the cage that surrounds your interior coils and components, the heat transfer that keeps your home warm can’t happen. As a result, your heat pump freezes and your home’s supply of heat stops working.

Protecting Your Air Conditioner

Hopefully, by this point we have convinced you that protecting your air conditioner from snow and ice is an important part of owning and operating your system, but how can you effectively protect this system from some of the worst conditions the weather can throw at you? It may take a little bit of added work, but it doesn’t have to be difficult:

HVAC System

  • Only cover your HVAC system during snow storms; don’t leave it on all winter. This gives animals a place where they can find shelter, and they’ll cause even more damage to your system trying to build a home in there.
  • Sweep or brush off snow after significant snowfall. Don’t let snow build up on your unit and form an ice block that could damage it.
  • Clear away a radius of at least one foot around your outdoor unit. If you have a heat pump system, clear away a radius of at least three feet for maximum effectiveness.
  • Do not use hot water to defrost a frozen air conditioner. Mixing hot water with frozen snow can cause temperature shock, which can in turn cause even rigid metal materials to shatter.
  • Have your air conditioner inspected before you use it next to make sure no lasting damage has formed.

Got a problem with your air conditioner? Even in the middle of winter, we’re here to help! Call Blazer Heating, Air, and Plumbing at (804) 277-2458 today.