What You Need to Know About Clearing Snow Off Your HVAC System

October 2, 2022
Winter HVAC in Detroit, MI

Heavy snow loads, build-ups of ice, and melting and refreezing precipitation can all cause lasting damage to your HVAC system if you don’t prevent it. In Roseville, MI winter HVAC maintenance entails regular and diligent snow removal. Following is what you need to know about removing snow and ice from your outdoor HVAC equipment.

Why Snow Should Be Removed

In small, modest layers, snow is light, powdery, and harmless. This is especially true after it’s just landed. However, as snow accumulates, its weight increases. When snowfall is heavy, snow loads on your outdoor HVAC equipment can become overbearing. When the temperature slightly rises during the mid-portion of the day and dips again at night, light, powdery snow melts and then refreezes into thick, burdensome sheets of ice. This additional weight and the excess moisture it brings can:

  • Damage fans and fins
  • Cause corrosion
  • Lower efficiency
  • Block airflow

In the right conditions, mounds of snow and other winter build-ups can also inhibit the venting process of your furnace. If this happens, you risk having carbon monoxide and other harmful combustion gases enter your home.

Start the Season By Limbing Your Trees

The heaviest snow loads on outside HVAC equipment don’t accumulate gradually. Instead, these often come in massive dumps of frozen precipitation that fall off of roofs or nearby tree branches. Just as heavy snow can be taxing on your HVAC system, it can also take a toll on weak and dying tree limbs. If these aren’t limbed ahead of a big storm, they’ll likely come tumbling down. Falling tree branches can cause serious, impact-related damage to your outside HVAC equipment, and thus, it’s worth the effort to cut these before they do. Getting rid of old branches that hang over your outdoor HVAC components will limit large drops of snow and ice as well.

Shoveling Around the HVAC Unit

To make things easier during and after a storm, you may want to clear a one-foot path around your HVAC unit and keep it clear every time you go out to shovel. This ensures that your HVAC system will not get accidentally overlooked. A path makes it more convenient to include your unit in your regular routine of removing snow from your driveway, sidewalk, vehicles, and roof. When cleaning off your HVAC equipment, gently pull snow from underneath it and from around its sides. Clearing a path not only ensures you include your HVAC unit in your shoveling pattern but also gives you enough room to clean off the equipment itself.

Cleaning Your HVAC Equipment

Don’t make the grievous mistake of clearing your HVAC equipment with a heavy shovel, rake, or ice pick. This can cause far more damage than it prevents. Instead, use a soft brush or broom to sweep snow accumulations away. This is easiest to do when snow is still light, powdery, and soft. If you don’t catch build-ups of snow before they melt and refreeze, you can make your work a little easier by pouring a small amount of warm water on it. However, you should never use hot water to melt snow. Using boiling water to melt snow and ice on outside HVAC equipment can shock it and cause various components to crack. Be gentle, thorough, and regular in your snow clearing to protect your system.

Don’t Leave Outdoor Covers On

There are a number of stores that sell canvas and plastic covers for outdoor HVAC units. Although these certainly seem handy, they can’t be used all season long. If you keep your outside HVAC equipment covered all throughout the winter, melting snow and ice will eventually make their way inside. Without adequate ventilation, this moisture can’t evaporate or dry. Instead, it will linger on the outside and inside of the unit and cause problems like rusting and eventual failure.

If you choose to use a cover, be sure to remove it right after a big snowstorm so that your unit can air out. Don’t leave equipment covers on for more than a few days at a time, and avoid using any cover that you’ve made yourself with a tarp or large sheet of plastic. Although store-bought covers don’t provide enough ventilation for outside HVAC equipment, they do provide more than simple plastic sheets and tarps.

Clean Off Your Exterior Heating System Vents

To ensure that combustion gases can make their way outdoors, go outside and inspect your exterior heating system vents. Use your shovel and broom to clear away mounds or piles of snow that have built-up by these vents, and use your broom to dust off loose accumulations of snow on the vents themselves. Melting and refreezing can be especially dangerous here. If you find vents that have frozen over, turn your heating system off and use warm water to clear these build-ups away before resuming heater operation. It is a good idea to test the carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home and replace their batteries as needed before winter storms hit Roseville.

Take Good Care of Your Roof

Just as you can expect overhead tree branches to accumulate and then dump massive amounts of snow onto your HVAC equipment, you can also expect this same activity from your rooftop. Homeowners are generally advised to clear snow from their roofs several times per day while shoveling their walkways and driveways. Taking good care of your roof throughout the year can limit the risk of ice damming and the formation of large, heavy icicles. Icicles and sheets of ice can render HVAC equipment inoperable if they fall off and hit your system too hard or the wrong way.

There are a few things that you can do to prevent melting and refreezing in your gutters and eaves. To start, make sure that your attic is properly insulated. Then, consider investing in gutter heaters. These simple yet incredibly effective home additions will extend the lifespan of your rooftop drainage system, protect your roof, and limit heavy build-ups of precipitation over your HVAC equipment.

Perform Thorough Inspections After Severe Weather

Following any severe weather event, it’s important to go outside and check for equipment damage. This is especially true when snowstorms come with strong, fast-moving wind. Make sure that no large, heavy debris has blown into your yard and that your heater exhaust vents are clear. Remove all tree branches, twigs, and other accumulations from the top of your HVAC unit and from around its base.

Although outdoor HVAC equipment has been designed to handle the ravages of the natural elements, winter can be especially tough on these units. With regular snow removal, you can limit the amount of wear that your HVAC system sustains throughout the cold season. It can also be beneficial to schedule HVAC maintenance once the spring time rolls around.

Contact The Pros if You Notice Damage

If you discover damage to your HVAC system during your snow removal routine, you may want to contact a professional to ensure you do not have a serious problem. For over six decades, C & C Heating & Air Conditioning has been proudly serving residents of Macomb County. Our technicians are qualified and ready to inspect any damage to your system and give you expert advice on your best course of action.

We also offer HVAC system installation, maintenance, repairs, and indoor air quality service. Contact C & C Heating & Air Conditioning today to get started!

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