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How Snow Affects Your HVAC System

Kentucky doesn’t get nearly as much snow as, say, upstate New York. Even so, we have had a few snowy winters lately, and this one looks to be no different. And even though we don’t live in the tundra, it’s still perfectly normal to wonder how all that ice and snow affect the things that are constantly sitting out in them.

When snow starts to fall, you might start to wonder how your HVAC equipment stands up to the snow. Is it bad for your outdoor air conditioning unit? How about your heat pump? We’ll answer those questions (and more) for you today.

How Snow Affects Your Air Conditioner

It just takes one look at an air conditioner piled high with snow and ice to panic. Should you have covered it? Will it be dead come springtime? Let us quell your fears: your air conditioner will be just fine.

While it might be alarming to see your air conditioner halfway covered in snow, take heart: air conditioners are made to withstand that sort of weather. Manufacturers perform rigorous testing all to ensure that your air conditioner can make it through the harshest winters unscathed.

In fact, you shouldn’t even be covering your air conditioner in the winter. At least, not entirely. By covering your entire air conditioner the way you would cover a grill, you are trapping moisture inside. This will lead to mold and rotten electrical components. If you decide to cover your air conditioner at all, only cover the top to keep any falling debris or icicles out.

How Snow Affects Your Heat Pump

Although air conditioners and heat pumps are extremely similar, heat pumps don’t have the luxury of taking a 6-month break every year. Since heat pumps need to keep your house warm (especially when it snows!), they need to have ways to deal with the cold.

Heat pumps can operate when covered in snow, but their efficiency takes a massive hit. Because of that, all heat pumps have a defrost function. We won’t go into specifics, but it effectively reverses the flow of the heat so the inside of the heat pump warms up and thaws any ice in there. Once the snow melts, the heat pump resumes normal function. The defrost isn’t terribly energy efficient, but it’s much more so than your heat pump powering through frozen coils.

If it gets too cold, though, your heat pump will have a difficult time pulling heat from the air. When that happens, most heat pumps switch to an alternative heat source, often labeled “emergency heat” by the thermostat. This emergency heat usually comes through induction wires. It’s like using a toaster to heat your home. As you can imagine, it’s not terribly efficient. The cost is similar to using a giant space heater to warm up your entire home.

The best-case scenario is something called a dual-fuel system. It uses a heat pump when the weather is around 40-50º and a furnace for when it gets colder than that.

How Snow Affects Your Furnace

Basically, not at all. The more snow there is, the colder it is, and the more your furnace will have to heat your home. However, since your furnace lives inside, it doesn’t have to contend with freezing temperatures and snow.

However, snow can block the vents that let your furnace take clean air from outside (and expel dirty air from inside). If those vents get blocked, the results can be dangerous! So when snow falls, make sure your exhaust vents aren’t stopped up.

Check Back Monthly for More HVAC Tips

We write HVAC blogs every month. If this helped you find some peace of mind about your A/C’s ability to withstand the snow, check back soon! We’ll have more great articles for you.

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