If the Farmer’s Almanac is on point, this coming Winter will prove to be a long and cold one with lots of snow. Beyond being prepared for cleaning up the snow and ice from driveways, sidewalks and roofs, you also need to keep your HVAC system’s vents and pipes clear from the winter elements as well.
Regardless if you use oil or gas to heat your home, your system has an exhaust pipe with many systems also having an air-intake pipe. All these pipes begin or end somewhere outside of your home. If your home is older, the exhaust pipe will most likely be led up a chimney, which means there is less chance of the pipe being blocks by snow or debris. Newer homes typically have pipes that go through exterior walls and vent through the sill where snow and ice can build up.
Why is it so important for your heating system’s pipes to be free and clear from snow and debris?
Your furnace or boiler needs 3 things to work properly: oxygen, fuel, and a spark. Most older homes have heating systems in large basements that allow all the oxygen they need to function properly. In newer builds, heating systems are tucked into smaller areas with inadequate oxygen to maximize space, so they need an air-intake pipe that brings in oxygen from outside to feed the system.
Once your furnace has fuel, oxygen, and a spark it will fire up and start producing heat and carbon monoxide. The heat we want to stay in the home, but the carbon monoxide, which is poisonous, needs to be expelled so it can dissipate. This is done through the exhaust pipe.
If you allow snow or debris to block the air intake or exhaust pipe, your system will not be able to function properly – it will stall due to lack of oxygen or shut off due to a built-in safety feature that detects too much CO in the air. Once the blockage of the air intake is cleared, the system can be re-fired. However, a blockage of the exhaust vent could lead to additional issues. Even if the system shuts down due to the safety shut off feature, enough CO could have collected in a snow pocket and it could force its way back into the home through cracks and crevices. Since CO is odorless, colorless, and tasteless, you won’t be able to detect its presence without proper CO detectors in your home.
If you are unsure where your system vents, the easiest way it to look at your system’s set up. If it’s older, you’ll see an aluminum pipe coming off the back of the furnace and venting into the chimney. If it’s newer, you’ll see two 3-inch PVC pipes coming off the top – follow them until they exit the building. Once you know where your vents are, you can make sure you keep them clear of snow and debris. A great tip is to mark them with a flag or bright marker so you can find them after a heavy snow fall.
To ensure your safety, make sure you have a working CO detector in your home. As with smoke detectors, if the CO detector isn’t hard wired check batteries every six months.
If you have questions on how your system works or how to properly maintain it, we’re always here to help – we even have 24/7 emergency service!