How to Protect Your HVAC Unit during the Winter Season?

Written by Eric · 4 min read >
How to Protect Your HVAC Unit during the Winter Season

Even though winters bring their festivities and snow, the harsh winter weather can seriously affect your HVAC unit if not properly protected. People do not realize the importance of doing this.

Since almost every AC unit contains a compressor outside, which is exposed to the outdoor temperature and environment all the time, during the winter season, ice builds up over the HVAC unit outside and can pose a problem for homeowners. So what should you do to protect the HVAC unit during winter? Continue reading to find out all about it.

How does the cold weather impact your HVAC unit?

The winter season brings cold and snow that can negatively affect your HVAC unit. Even if you have a heat pump outside that allows you to use your HVAC unit in summers and winters, you need to take extra precautions to ensure snow does not build up on your unit outside and cause problems in the system’s operation. But if you are not operating your HVAC unit in the winter season, you need to keep it protected from the snow which will damage the compressor and thus affect its performance.

Ice buildup on the outdoor unit

The buildup of ice on the HVAC unit outside can cause problems.  When you use your HVAC unit, the heat generated due to its running will melt the ice. However, when this melted ice refreezes due to the cold, it will expand and wreak havoc on the coil fins. Damaged coil fins will restrict the flow of air and thus affect the performance of your HVAC unit.

This means that your HVAC unit will have to work harder to heat or cool your indoors, making the unit energy inefficient and raising your utility bidder energy bills. Since the outdoor unit is exposed to moisture in the air for prolonged periods, there is a significant risk of rust and corrosion over time that will hamper the function of the HVAC unit.

Poor airflow of the HVAC unit

The ice buildup on your HVAC unit will also affect the airflow in your HVAC unit. The heat pumps installed outdoors take heat from outdoor air to warm the inside of the house. So if the heat pump unit is blocked due to snow buildup, it will not be able to draw air from the outdoors or function properly.

Restricted airflow over a longer period will damage your HVAC unit and require repair work that will add a burden on your pockets. And if you use a furnace to heat your house, then this blockage of airflow can also cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Since the furnace uses gas to produce heat to warm your house, if there is no outlet for carbon monoxide, it will build up in your house and is extremely harmful to your health.

How to protect your HVAC unit against winter weather damage?

So as you can see, if precaution is not taken, the harsh weather during winter can cause serious problems. This then brings us to the next question. What to do to protect the HVAC unit during winter?

1) Ensure defrost cycle is running on your heat pumps

Heat pumps consist of a feature that allows you to prevent ice buildup. This defrost cycle allows the heat pump to warm up the coil outdoors and melt the ice. This usually occurs automatically. But if there is a significant buildup on the outdoor unit, there may be a problem with your defrosting system. Read more about When Can a Business Owner Avoid Liability for a Slip and Fall?

2) Make a wind barrier around the unit outdoors.

Building a wind barrier around the unit outdoors will block precipitation and other debris from blocking the condenser. This will reduce the buildup of snow on the outdoor unit. Moreover, ensure that your outdoor unit has enough distance from the fence because it can restrict airflow and cause other issues like fire.

3) Move snow away

Suppose you properly maintain your outdoor unit by regularly moving away from the ice and shoveling after a heavy snowfall. In that case, you can prevent blockage of your outdoor unit due to ice buildup.

4) Regularly replace filters

It is crucial to replace filters regularly. Dirty air filters will restrict airflow causing poor performance. Clogged filters will not warn your house or allow the heat pump to run defrost mode, which will cause a buildup of ice on the outdoor unit.

5) Regularly check gutters and drain lines.

Checking the drain lines of your HVAC unit for blockage will allow you to identify issues before they cause problems. If ice buildup blocks the drainage system, water may collect and spill indoors, causing dampness and mold growth indoors. Also, ensure there is no ice buildup in gutters that may cause damage to the outdoor unit.

6) Properly install the HVAC unit

If you get regular snowfall in your area, ensure that the outdoor unit is installed  6 inches above the ground level. This will prevent your outdoor unit from being buried under the snow and prevent the outdoor unit’s blockage and corrosion.

7) Clean furnace exhaust regularly

Heavy snowfall can also block furnace exhaust, preventing its ability to expel carbon monoxide and thus leading to poisoning from the toxic gas. So clear away the snow and clean the furnace exhaust regularly.

8) Cover only when necessary

If you are wondering whether you should cover the HVAC unit during winter, then yes, you can if you will not be using it during winter. This will help in protecting it against the accumulation of dirt and debris. However, you need to ensure that the cover is of good quality. The material should be light and breathable, allowing protection and preventing mold growth, rust, corrosion, or rodents from building their home in the unit.

If you live in an area that gets a lot of snowfall, then the cover of your HVAC unit should be able to prevent snow from damaging your outdoor unit. You should never cover outdoor units if you use them during winter because it will hamper airflow, reduce performance, and increase fire risk. Moreover, newer outdoor units are designed in a way that withstands harsh conditions, so you do not need to cover them.


It is important to regularly check your HVAC unit for care and maintenance. But no matter how serious you are about the maintenance, some issues are to be checked by experts only. If you follow the tips mentioned above for protecting your HVAC unit during the winter season, you will be able to prevent damage caused by harsh weather. But if you find that your HVAC unit is not performing efficiently, you need to call experts to identify the problem before it becomes bigger.

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