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  • Writer's pictureVirginia Air

Preparing Your HVAC System for a Snowstorm from Virginia Air Heating & Cooling

Virginia is a state where summer or winter can be extreme. The latest snowstorm that just crippled our area is a prime example. From heavy snow buildup to icicle damage to melting and refreezing, there are many ways that WINTER WEATHER can impair your HVAC system’s ability to function efficiently.

Snow and ice can lead to airflow problems, corrosion, damage to fans and fins, reduced efficiency, physical damage, rust build-up, and more. On top of the potential for costly repairs, the effects of snow and ice on your outdoor unit can also lead to a spike in cost of your energy bills.

Just like air filters, if there is too much snow or ice on top or around your exterior coils of a heat pump or furnace exhaust, you are blocking the necessary air flow for your system to run. Even the slightest of buildup can cause your heating system to work twice as hard, leading to more energy usage and higher utility bills. Snow can also have dangerous impacts on your heating system like overheating of motors, corrosion of parts, mold/mildew growth along with costly replacement parts or equipment. It can also lead to dangerous repercussions to you and your family if your furnace exhaust is blocked by snow buildup. Harmful chemicals, like carbon monoxide, can possibly enter your home. We all know carbon monoxide is a silent killer.

Making sure you are prepared for an approaching snowstorm helps to increase your heating energy efficiency, prevent emergency service calls and ensure that your family stays safe and warm even during the nastiest of weather conditions. Here are some tips FOR THE INSIDE AND OUTSIDE OF YOUR HOME that will help you prepare your system for inclement weather.



A heating system checkup combats future repairs and keeps your unit working at optimal levels. A Virginia Air Heating & Cooling technician will check and test your heating system to make sure all is working to manufacturer’s specifications, note issues that maybe a problem or a potential failure, and make any requested repairs. This is the most cost effective way to save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars as well as extend the lifespan of your equipment


Your HVAC system can run more efficiently when you have your home’s insulation in check. Look for drafts around windows and doors and seal up any air leaks. Also, have the attic checked to make sure you have the right amount of insulation. When your heating and cooling system isn’t competing with the outdoor air entering the home, you’ll save money on your energy bills and keep your heat system from overworking, especially during severe weather.


Any exposed pipes in or outside of your home are at risk of bursting during extremely cold weather. Accordingly, replace the insulation on the pipe running to your HVAC unit if corroded or falling apart. This will decrease the chances of damage to your pipes that could result in a costly repair.


When outdoor temperatures are frigid, your system will run more causing filters to get dirty extremely quick! Be sure you are checking filters more frequently, and changing them accordingly. Even if you are strict about replacing them on the first of the month, take the time to complete this step when snow hits the ground or the outdoor temperatures drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.


Whether your teenager throws clothes over their bedroom vents or you have furniture covering/blocking them throughout the house, when the weather is at its worst, you’ll want to make sure these are clear. The more your heat runs, the more air it requires. That same air flowing through your system also cools your motors and moving parts. Limiting the airflow due to obstructions over or in front of your vents and registers can make it difficult for your heat to reach the set temperature and can cause your heat to fail.


If you’re worried about the power going out when a snowstorm comes through, consider investing in a whole-house generator to keep your HVAC unit working. If you aren’t sure what generator options are best for your system, ask an HVAC technician for guidance and professional advice.

Give your thermostat a little attention before the next snowstorm to ensure it is reading the indoor temperature correctly. You can also invest in a programmable thermostat for more control over temperatures when you’re not at home. When the weather does reach extremely low temperatures, make sure you’re setting the indoor temperatures realistically so that the unit can keep up and your home stays safe.


If you have bushes, tree branches or limbs hanging over or around your outdoor HVAC unit that seemed harmless during the warmer months, you’ll want to reevaluate them before winter and again before spring. When it snows, tree branches and limbs can grow heavy with snow or ice, leading them to snap off and damage your HVAC unit. To avoid this damage, remove any risky bushes, branches or limbs. If the branches don’t break, they can drip water onto your unit potentially freezing which can weigh heavy on fan blades causing the blades to become unbalanced, which in turn, can cause the fan or the compressor to fail on a heat pump running or on your ac when it tries to run. Ice is not you or your outdoor unit’s friend!


In addition to clearing any harmful tree branches or limbs around your outdoor HVAC unit, it’s also essential to clear the unit itself. Heavy snow or ice buildup can lead to problems with airflow, cause condensing unit or heat pump failure, and more that can leave you with a costly repair on your hands.

Make sure to clear your HVAC unit of any heavy snow or ice buildup carefully! Never use an icepick or sharp object to remove ice or snow, as this could further damage the system. Instead, use a broom slowly for heavy snow or ice melt or warm water to help with hard to remove ice.

While you’re clearing off your unit, you should also carefully remove snow away from the bottom sides of your outdoor unit. Airflow is crucial the bottom three to four rows of coils and the top of the unit.


Snow buildup that blocks your exterior heating vents can be dangerous and damaging to your HVAC system. Whenever there is heavy snowfall, take some time to check your exterior vents and remove any buildup blocking them.

It’s best to make checking your exterior vents a routine part of your snow removal process. Whenever you go out to plow, shovel, or snow-blow your driveway and pathways, pay some attention to your exterior vents too.

#11: make sure all your roof, gutters and downspouts are clear of debris

Clogged gutters and downspouts are just as bad, if not worse than what bushes or tree branches and limbs can do to your outdoor unit. Gutters tend to be the most neglected but the worst for your outdoor unit when they overflow either water or debris onto your outdoor unit. A clogged gutter can consistently overflow or drip onto your outdoor unit when clogged. Freezing temperatures and dripping water combined wreak nothing but havoc to an outdoor unit. The biggest misconception is that your system’s “defrost” will take care of this. Defrost only addresses your coil behind your fins and not the fan motor, blades or the exterior cover of your outdoor unit. Cleaning your gutters can be inexpensive when compared to replacing an outdoor unit or system, unless you like to spend $5000 to $10,000 or more for a new system?


One of the most important components of ensuring that your HVAC system is ready to keep your home warm and safe all winter long is being proactive with these tips but also scheduling regular maintenance with Virginia Air Heating & Cooling. In addition to ensuring that your system is in optimal running condition at your system checkup, an HVAC technician can help you establish the best practices for protecting your system which includes your outdoor unit.


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