The HVAC system in your Vancouver, Washington home was built to stand up to temperature extremes. Whether outside temperatures plummet or soar, you can count on your air conditioner and heater to keep you safe and comfortable. In return, all you have to do is take good care of them. As the cold season comes rolling in, your job is to understand and mitigate the winter-related challenges your HVAC system is guaranteed to face.
Air Leak and Your HVAC System
Your HVAC system lies at the heart of your home heating and cooling plan. However, it isn't the only element that matters. Your home's insulation, windows, and doors matter too. Even if you purchase and install the most efficient heater you can find, this unit won't be able to deliver superior performance if you have low-quality windows with failing seals and doors leading to the exterior of your home with large gaps beneath them.
Cracks and gaps in drywall and siding, leaky crawlspaces, and aging ductwork are key as well. In winter, all of these things cause heat loss. They account for a significant amount of your household's energy waste. It's estimated that nearly half of a home's energy waste is caused by leaky ductwork alone.
In addition to driving your home energy bills up and diminishing your indoor comfort, these are things that add stress to your HVAC system. The colder the outside temperatures fall, the harder your HVAC system must work to maintain your preferred temperature. Having air leaks throughout your home and throughout your air distribution system will compound this stress, expedite wear, and shorten the lifespan of your heater. Thus, to limit the challenges that your HVAC system faces in winter, you can start by sealing up air leaks.
Your HVAC System’s Outside Components
Whether you have a heat pump or an air conditioner, its condenser is installed outside. This is by far the most vulnerable part of your HVAC system in winter. Unfortunately, it's also your HVAC system's most costly component.
Although heat pumps and AC condensers are built tough, hailstorms, lightning strikes, and falling tree branches can certainly cause damage. You can limit and outright prevent much of this damage by simply cleaning your yard. Heavy items that can be blown into your condenser by strong winds should be stored or tethered in place. Broken tree branches, twigs, and other loose debris should be cleaned up as well. Take special care to remove small items from around your condenser's perimeter.
When the weather is at its worst, consider the benefits of using a condenser cover. This is a soft-sided cover with cutouts or mesh along its sides for ventilation. Condenser covers are heavy enough to prevent dents and other damage caused by hail. Thus, they're worth putting on during times of freezing precipitation. However, as soon as storms have passed, these covers should be immediately removed. Despite having mesh elements or cutouts, they don't provide enough ventilation for long-term use. Keeping them on for too long will trap excess moisture in and around your condenser, and it may set the stage for rust and mold issues.
How Weather-related Roof Damage Can Affect Your HVAC Equipment
When it comes to protecting condenser units, it's also important to practice diligent roof maintenance. Strong winds and heavy precipitation can result in loose roof tiles or roof shingles. When these things fall, they could land on your condenser. Severe storms can even tear your gutters and downspouts away from the building's exterior. Scheduling roof repairs before severe weather rolls in will keep these and other roofing elements from denting or otherwise damaging your condenser.
Beware the Potential for Back-drafting
Washingtonians are all about saving energy and cutting their carbon footprints. You've probably learned a lot about tightening up your home's envelope. Between sealing up air leaks and adding insulation, you may be able to maintain a modest heating bill even when it's freezing outside. However, it's important to note that there are a number of inherent dangers in having a home envelope that's too tight. The biggest of them is back-drafting.
Your home's furnace is vented outdoors. This venting system releases harmful exhaust gases like carbon monoxide that are created during fuel combustion. Even if you have a very efficient gas furnace, at least two percent of the fuel that it consumes is converted into exhaust fumes. When your home's envelope is too tight, it can develop negative air pressure. This happens when bathroom exhaust fans, kitchen hood vents, and other venting systems are constantly extracting air, but no new air is getting in. When a home has negative air pressure, furnace vent systems start pulling outside air indoors while bringing exhaust gases with it. This is one of several ways in which carbon monoxide exposure and carbon monoxide poisoning occur.
If you've been working to develop a tight home envelope, keep an eye on your furnace flame. This should always be a bright blue. If it turns orange, red, or yellow, give us a call right away.
Build-Ups of Ice
Accumulations of ice can wreak havoc on a heat pump's condenser. During prolonged periods of freezing or below-freezing temperatures, ice can build on your heat pump's coils. A light coating of frost isn't a huge issue. Heat pump defrost settings can quickly melt the frost away. However, large coatings could trigger the unit's emergency shut-off.
Being without heat in extremely cold weather due to an iced-over heat pump could leave your entire household at risk of hypothermia, frostnip, and other exposure-related health issues. If the weather is cold enough, insufficient indoor heat can also cause your plumbing to freeze. The best way to prevent this is by having your heat pump tuned up before winter arrives and by making sure that its defrost setting is working.
Storm-related Power Outages
Storm-related power outages will leave you without a functional HVAC system. This remains true even if you have a gas-fired furnace. All modern furnaces have both electric ignition switches and interior components that require a constant supply of electricity. Gas is merely what these units burn to produce heat. Thus, in the event of a power outage, it's best to have a backup heating plan.
Storm-related power outages can also lead to electrical damage. Most damage isn't the result of outages themselves. Instead, it's caused by the sudden return of the power supply. Also known as a power surge, the return of electrical service can fry your computers, your personal devices, and your HVAC system. Whole-house surge protection is the best method of prevention in this case.
Cold Weather Pest Problems
Winter weather also sends many animals and insects in search of safe, secure housing. Unfortunately, the first place where they often look is your HVAC system. Due to their outside location and their fairly high level of accessibility, AC and heat pump condensers are especially likely to attract pests. HVAC air ducts are a common target too. To prevent infestation, keep your property clean and your garbage cans covered. Seal up any points of ingress at the building exterior, and make sure that your condenser's own hard-sided cover and grilles are firmly attached.
Revival Heating & Cooling is a trusted HVAC installation, repair and maintenance service provider in the greater Vancouver, WA area. We also offer preventative maintenance plans, oil-to-gas conversions, and indoor air quality solutions. If you want help getting your HVAC system winter-ready, call Revival Heating & Cooling today!