We depend on our heating and cooling systems to keep us comfortable year-round, but winter weather can take a toll on heating and cooling units unless they’re protected. Here are a few tips to help you shield your HVAC unit from the worst that winter has to offer, and avoid a costly furnace repair.

Avoid snow and ice accumulations

Air intake and exhaust ports for gas high efficiency furnaces normally exit the house through the foundation or a sidewall, or through a lined chimney. Snow or ice accumulations around these PVC plastic or stainless steel ports can cause the furnace to shut down. To let your furnace “breathe,” keep snow and ice clear in a 3′ radius around these pipes.

Avoid running or seeping water

Direct water that’s draining from gutters and downspouts away from your heat pump or ductless heating and cooling condenser. Check for ice buildup on the condenser. Frost buildup is normal, but ice buildup is not! Your heat pump or ductless heating and cooling unit has a built-in defrost cycle that will defrost the coils when necessary. If you notice ice buildup on the fan or coils, monitor it for an hour or so. If the condenser unit’s defrost cycle doesn’t take care of the problem, call for professional service. Do not attempt to remove the ice with a pick or chisel. (You can damage the condenser.) Do not attempt to melt it with hot water, either. (The hot water will simply re-freeze.)

Protect it, don’t enclose it!

Conventional central air conditioners can be covered to protect them from the winter elements. Just be sure to remove the cover before restarting the unit in the spring. Condensers for heat pumps and ductless heating and cooling units should never be covered. Your condenser unit should be elevated several inches off the ground at the time of installation to help discourage snow and ice buildup. In addition, keep landscaping and volunteer vegetation away from the condenser by covering the surrounding ground with pebbles or rocks for about 2 feet in all directions. Don’t build a tight enclosure around the unit. If you want to shield or hide your condenser, make sure that any structure is at least 2 feet away from the unit in all directions. This will ensure that the unit receives adequate airflow.

A note about pilot lights:

If you have conventional forced air heating and an older furnace, your furnace may use a standing pilot light. Normally, a pilot light should stay lit, but you may lose your pilot light in high winds. It’s tempting to think that downdrafts in the chimney will “blow out” your pilot light, but something else may be afoot. More likely, your thermocouple may need cleaning or replacement, or the gas pressure to your furnace may be insufficient to keep your pilot light burning reliably. In either case, a gas furnace repair professional can diagnose and correct the problem.

Schedule Inspection or Repair Today!

If you would like more information on winter heating and cooling maintenance, or you would like to schedule an inspection or repair in Kennewick, Richland or Walla Walla, please call Fuse Heating and Air Conditioning at (509) 396-9774.