Can a nor'easter break my HVAC system? - National Refrigeration Blog

Can a nor’easter break my HVAC system?

Can nor'easter break hvac system?

While fall has just begun, the big-storm season is already in full swing. Hurricane Lee ended up not causing as much damage as predicted in New England, but it was a good reminder of how important storm preparation is.

Nor’easters are one of the most damaging types of storms that regularly hit our region. The mixture of strong winds with heavy snow or rain is a recipe for power outages and property damage. And since they most often occur during the colder months, many fear the storm will cause their HVAC system to fail, leaving them forced to bundle up until a technician can fix it.  Knowing the right steps to take in order to be fully prepared for future storms can increase the likelihood that your heating and cooling systems will stay protected even in severe weather conditions.

What is a Nor’easter?

Much like hurricanes, nor’easters are a counter-clockwise wind spiral. This spiral pulls moisture from the Atlantic Ocean toward the northeast, creating heavy precipitation (often snow), flooding, and aggressive wind shears. 

Snow accumulation around outdoor HVAC unit.

How does a nor’easter impact an HVAC system?

Snow and Ice: The accumulation of snow and ice can threaten your HVAC system. If heavy snow piles up on your outdoor heat pump unit or icicles form along the vents, air can’t flow properly in and out of the system. This lack of ventilation, at best, reduces efficiency and, at worst, can cause your system to break down. It is very important to keep the intake valves free of snow buildup (whether it’s from accumulation or blowing and drifting banks). Blocked vents can cause carbon monoxide to build up in your home which can be deadly.

Debris: If high winds are causing branches or other objects to be thrown against your outdoor condenser it could cause damage to the fan or other components. 

Moisture: During a storm, it’s more likely that water could enter the outdoor unit’s electrical components. Such intrusion can lead to short circuits or other electrical issues.

Frozen Components: Essential elements of your HVAC system, like pipes or coils, can freeze during winter storms. 

Consider insulating exposed pipes and other vulnerable HVAC system components to prevent freezing.

Protecting Your HVAC System

It is virtually impossible to mitigate all of the risks of a nor’easter, but there are steps you can take to minimize the potential damage.

  1. Protective coverings: Adding a cover to your outdoor HVAC unit can prevent snow, ice, and debris from heavily impacting your system. Be sure to consult your HVAC technician for advice on the best covering that won’t inhibit the function of your unit or cause safety issues.
  1. Surge Protectors: Installing a surge protector for your HVAC units will reduce the risk of harm to your system from electrical surges that may occur during a storm.
  1. Trim Trees: By keeping your unit clear of trees, you can reduce the likelihood of branches harming the system.
  1. Clear Debris and Snow: If it’s safe, periodically go outside and clear off anything that might obstruct your unit from functioning properly and remember to clear the exhaust pipe of any snow.
  1. Insulate: Consider insulating exposed pipes and other vulnerable HVAC system components to prevent freezing.

While emergencies can happen, taking preventative action where we can helps decrease the chance of unwanted system failure in the middle of a storm or cold spell.

If you’re looking for expert advice about your HVAC options in New England, contact the National Refrigeration team, and we’ll find the right solution for you.

Whether you need 24-7 emergency service or advice on improving your everyday air quality and comfort—at home and work—call us at 401-737-2000 or email us.


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