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Protect Your HVAC System from Winter Elements

The worst time of year for your heating system to go on the fritz is the winter. Just as wind, snow, and ice cause long and short term damage to your home, the same could cause costly damage to an HVAC unit. Portland residents who take the simple yet necessary steps to protect and maintain their HVAC system during the coldest times of the year will maximize the unit’s life span, requiring less frequent repairs that can help save on monthly usage costs.

The Effects of Winter Weather on an HVAC in Portland

Gas Furnaces and Boilers

Some of the most vulnerable parts of a boiler and gas furnace are the unprotected exhaust and intake pipes that are located in the roof of your home or on a sidewall. If ice, snow, or frost melts and re-freezes in the exhaust or intake pipe, the system might shut down.

These types of heating units also have valves and controls that are vulnerable to water damage. Exposure to water can lead to hidden corrosion within the system and create reliability issues. In more severe cases, water damage could cause the appliance to catch fire. Always have an HVAC Portland professional inspect a unit if you suspect any water damage.

Heat Pumps

Rain or melting snow that drips from a roof or gutter system into a heat pump is particularly problematic if the water freezes on the coil fins and fan blades. This could cause an imbalance within the unit itself. When this occurs, you might notice unusual vibrations and noises coming from the unit or refrigeration leaks. In addition, fins could burst, the circuitry in the system may short, or components might burn-out.

In general, frost accumulating on heat pump coils is of no concern because the unit uses the refrigerant within it to absorb the change in temperature. When the refrigerant absorbs heat, the excess moisture sometimes builds up on the unit’s processing coils and freezes if the outside temperatures are cold enough.

A heat pump, however, should never become encased in ice because this will trigger the unit’s emergency shut-off. If you notice ice forming around the unit it’s necessary to address the issue immediately. This could indicate a problem with the unit’s automatic defrost setting. When you notice an abnormal buildup of ice, use a broom to remove any snow and debris that accumulated on and around the unit to promote airflow. Do not try to melt the ice using water or picks. If you don’t notice an improvement after 30 minutes, call a professional. If the accumulation of ice is large, call a professional right away. Click here for additional heat pump resources.



Winter Maintenance for Portland HVAC Systems

  • Debris removal: Keep the area on and around your heating unit clear and free of snow, leaves, pine needles, and overgrown vegetation.
  • Cover the A/C: As soon as the weather feels chilly, place a cover over the A/C unit to protect it from debris. If you have a portable unit, place it in a dry, sheltered area.
  • Gutters: Ensure that the gutters don’t drip onto the HVAC system.

Preventing Winter Weather Damage to HVAC Units

  • Air filters: Regularly change the air filters in your heating and cooling units as recommended per the manufacturer. Since the heating system works harder in the winter, you might need to replace the filters more often.
  • HVAC placement: Install an HVAC system on a platform instead of directly on the ground. The unit should be at least 18 inches away from your home.Proper-Drainage-Icon
  • Proper drainage: Ensure that water from rain and snowmelt drains away from your home.
  • Wind protection: Create a wind barrier at least 18 inches away from the HVAC unit. You can utilize shrubs or a fence to provide additional protection.
  • Protect components: If you have a gas furnace or boiler, protect the exhaust and intake pipes from rain and snow.
  • Coils and fins: Regularly inspect the coils and fins on your HVAC unit to ensure they are in good shape. Clean these components at least once a year.
  • Professional maintenance: Hire an HVAC professional to inspect and maintain the heating system toward the end of summer. Similarly, hire a professional to inspect your cooling system in the spring.

While the Portland area generally only experiences a couple days of snow in the winter, those few days could result in costly HVAC repairs if you don’t take the necessary precautions. If you suspect that your heating system needs repair, don’t wait until you’re left in the cold. Call your local Portland HVAC experts, AAA Heating & Cooling, right away.

Photo by State Farm via CC License