How to Protect Your HVAC from Snow and Ice

May 11, 2023


The HVAC system that keeps your Utah home comfortable throughout the changing seasons consists of an indoor and outdoor unit. Although the outdoor unit is made to work in harsh weather, snow and ice can still damage it. 

Proper winter maintenance keeps your HVAC system running at its best—and prevents costly damage. 

This guide explains how you can protect your HVAC from snow and ice and why it is critical to do so. 

How Do Snow and Ice Affect Your HVAC System?

Despite how beautiful and peaceful snow may look during Utah winters, it can negatively impact your HVAC system’s condition and performance. Here’s how moisture can wreak havoc on your HVAC unit:  

  • Ice and snow buildup: The accumulation of snow and ice on your HVAC unit can cause the system’s components to freeze, degrading the performance or even causing a sudden breakdown. 
  • Physical damage: Ice buildup above your outdoor unit can fall and damage your HVAC system, requiring repair and costly replacements.
  • Rust: When snow melts, water can leak into your system, leading to corrosion and rust formation. Rust acts as a cancer to structural components of your unit. 
  • Limits airflow: Snow and ice buildup limits airflow in your HVAC system, decreasing energy efficiency and leading to higher utility bills. 
  • Blocked exhaust: If snow and ice block your furnace exhaust, it can trigger an emergency shutdown for your system. It can also circulate harmful gasses into your home, compromising your family’s health and safety.

7 Ways to Protect Your HVAC From Snow and Ice 

After learning how snow and ice affect your unit, you’re probably wondering, “How do I protect my HVAC system during winter?” Luckily, the experts at Absolute Air are here to help. Here are seven tips on how to protect your HVAC unit from snow and ice: 

1. Inspect the Surrounding Area

Tree branches and limbs that appear harmless can significantly damage your outdoor HVAC unit when winter comes. Heavy, snow-laden branches can break off and damage your unit. To avoid this, ensure no low-hanging branches are near your AC unit come winter. In addition, check the surrounding gutters for leaks that might cause water to flow toward your unit, increasing the risk of freezing.

2. Prevent Icicle Damage 

Icicles form when snow or ice is melted by sunlight or other heat sources refreezes. These sharp pieces of ice usually form along the eaves of your roof, threatening your outdoor HVAC unit. If they break off and fall into your unit, they could pierce the aluminum coils and cause other physical damage, leading to costly repairs. If you notice icicles forming over your condenser unit, remove them safely

3. Clear Ice and Snow Buildup 

Ice/snow buildup on and around your outdoor unit poses several problems. It can block airflow to the heat pump, causing it to freeze and stop working. It can also stop your HVAC unit from defrosting properly, which lowers performance and longevity. Prevent these issues by proactively brushing off snow after a significant snowfall. Keep a two-foot area around your unit clear of snow for maximum safety. When clearing snow buildup, never use sharp objects, as they can damage the coils, fins, and other components. 

4. Consider Installing a Protective System

One of the best ways to protect your HVAC from snow and ice is to build a protective system around it. For example, you can add a fence to block wind-blown snow and install wood awnings above your unit to protect from falling icicles and snow buildup. You could also cover your unit to rebuff snow and debris—but choose a breathable material that won’t restrict airflow (to prevent moisture damage and rust). If you have any questions about what material to use or whether the protective system will impair your HVAC system, give us a call.

5. Keep Air Intake Vents Clear 

Intake vents provide pathways for fresh air to enter your space, protecting your home from carbon monoxide buildup and giving your furnace the necessary air for combustion. Find where your intake vents are located, and keep those areas clear. Accumulated snow may obstruct these vents, decreasing HVAC efficiency. An inability of your furnace to start may indicate your intake vents are clogged. 

6. Monitor the Exhaust for Blockages

Snowfall can block your furnace’s exhaust, dropping your HVAC system’s efficiency. It can also lead to carbon monoxide accumulation in your home—a significant health risk for your family. Modern furnaces have safety features for this purpose, but still check it as an extra precaution. Regularly inspecting your vents, exhaust, and outdoor unit is important to protecting your HVAC from snow and ice damage. 

7. Invest in Seasonal HVAC Maintenance 

By taking care of their HVAC system, Utah homeowners can extend its life and make sure it works as well as possible. During a maintenance visit, our HVAC professionals at Yes! will inspect your unit, pinpoint issues and address their root causes, and recommend the best tips to protect your HVAC from snow and ice. 

Winter HVAC Maintenance FAQs

Experts at Yes! answer Utah homeowners’ most commonly asked questions below about taking care of their HVAC systems during winter: 

Should you cover your HVAC unit in the winter? 

You can cover your HVAC unit in the winter to prevent coils from freezing and deter debris like sticks and leaves from blowing into your unit. While your unit is meant to withstand snow, it won’t hurt to add extra protection as long as you don’t cover the entire unit and choose a breathable material. 

Will snow ruin an AC unit?

While your unit can withstand inclement weather, lingering snow buildup can cause extensive damage. Snow can pile into the internal components of your unit, placing it at risk of rust and corrosion. Snow inside your unit also limits airflow, decreasing the efficiency of your system and wearing it out faster. 

How do I protect my HVAC system during winter?

Proactive HVAC maintenance is key. Quickly remove any snow or ice buildup in your unit, inspect exhaust and vents for blockages, and invest in seasonal maintenance to ensure your unit functions at its best.

How can I improve my HVAC system’s efficiency during winter? 

Always monitor the condition of your outdoor unit. When covered in ice, overall efficiency is reduced. Ensure all doors and windows are tightly closed to prevent heat loss. When no one is home, set your thermostat to a lower temperature. 

Ensure Your Home’s Comfort with Yes!

Having a reliable HVAC system assures your family’s comfort during the cold season. Maintaining your system is a must, and the tips we shared on how to protect your HVAC from snow and ice will help you get started. 

At Yes!, we’re dedicated to helping Utah homeowners maintain the optimal performance of their HVAC systems. We offer a wide range of HVAC, plumbing, and weatherization services to ensure your home’s comfort. 

Reach out today to schedule a service!

Last Updated: February 22, 2024