There are two main considerations to think about when it comes to the snow’s effect on your heater. First, that the snow and cold weather can cause excessive cycling of the system. This obviously drives up utility bills and increases the need for air filters to be changed more frequently while causing the components to wear quicker. The second major source of concern, since snow builds up outside of the home, is ventilation.
How a Furnace Uses Ventilation
A majority of our customers heat their homes via a gas furnace. A pilot light ignites burners that then warm up the air in a combustible heat exchanger. The warm air is delivered throughout the home, but the gases and byproducts of combustion need to be dispersed outside through a vent. The exhaust is usually vented either naturally through the top of the roof via a flue, or with the assistance of a fan pushing the gas out the side of the house.
One of the biggest issues that could arise from a heavy snowfall is the exhaust vents becoming plugged or inoperable. This not only increases the wear on the HVAC system, but it also creates a potentially dangerous situation. If gases such as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide cannot escape the home they linger, poisoning the air. It is recommended to keep the area around a side vent clear for up to a 3′ perimeter and inspecting the flue after a snowfall to make sure it’s clear of blockage.
High-Efficiency Furnaces Need Intake Air Too
A conventional gas furnace will use air from a utility room, basement, garage, or wherever the HVAC unit is installed as the intake needed for combustion. A high-efficiency furnace, however, takes fresh air from the outside for combustion, sucking it through an intake port located on the side of the home. This intake pipe is supposed to be installed above the snowline, but if it was improperly placed or is blocked because of snow, furnace malfunctions can occur. A high-efficiency furnace that doesn’t receive enough intake air will either run choppily or won’t start up at all – devastating in a cold and snowy weather condition.
Heat Pumps and Condensation
Unlike an air conditioner that has a compressor and condenser located on the outside of the home, the entirety of the components needed to warm the air in a furnace is situated inside of the house. This is not true for homes that utilize a heat pump, however. A heat pump moves heat instead of generating it – taking warm air out of the home in the Summer and sending warm air in during the Winter. This outside unit features a condenser that is needed to warm/cool the air. While the condensers do feature a defrost mode, a supreme amount of snow could limit the effectiveness of this feature and the air delivered inside could be a bit chilly if snow is allowed to build up.
What to Do, What to Do?
Fortunately, or maybe, unfortunately, all you really need to do to limit the snow’s impact on your furnace/heater is go outside in the blizzard. Keeping the necessary intake and exhaust ports clear of snow should restore normal function back to the heating components. Time is of the essence though, not only to ensure an uninterrupted supply of warm air when you need it but also to treat the snow before it turns into ice. February / March in our area is especially exciting as we’re catered to with 50° flip-flop weather one day and doused with a snow and ice downpour the next, so be prepared.