HVAC Hacks: Tips for Novices and New Homeowners

Dealing With A Frosty HVAC System? Here's What You Should Know

The sight of your HVAC system encased in thick sheets of ice might seem unusual, especially on the hottest day of the summer season. However, it's a surprisingly common problem that many homeowners grapple with throughout the summer. With your HVAC system on ice, you won't be able to enjoy the cooling comfort you'd normally expect.

So what can you do about ice buildup on your HVAC system? To find out, here's an in-depth guide on the causes of ice buildup, as well as a few removal and prevention tips you can use. 

What Causes Ice Buildup?

HVAC systems use the refrigeration process to remove latent heat from collected air. The now-conditioned air is then circulated throughout the home to provide a comfortable environment for its occupants.

The evaporator coil and condenser coil are both essential to this process. The evaporator coil allows refrigerant to absorb latent heat, while the condenser coil provides a way for refrigerant to release latent heat to the outdoors. Both components rely on continuous airflow and a proper supply of refrigerant to function properly. If there's not enough of one or the other (or even both, in some cases), it can cause the coil's surface temperature to drop below freezing.

When this happens, lingering moisture near the coils can freeze, creating layers of frost and ice. Given enough time, the ice buildup can grow substantially and choke the life out of your HVAC system.

What Symptoms Should You Look For?

The most obvious symptom of ice buildup is a heavy buildup of frost or ice on the evaporator or condenser coil. There are also other symptoms you can spot during the early stages of ice buildup. For instance, your HVAC system may stop producing cool, conditioned air as it becomes more difficult for air to flow through the evaporator or condenser coil. Your HVAC system may also start short cycling, where the HVAC compressor starts, stops and restarts in rapid succession, creating serious wear and tear.

How Should You Deal With Ice Buildup?

Fortunately, getting rid of ice buildup isn't too tough as long as you exercise caution. For starters, you don't want to use chisels, ice packs or other sharp tools to clear ice, as you could accidentally puncture the condenser or evaporator coil. Instead, you'll want to do the following:

  • Shut off your HVAC system at the circuit breaker as well as the thermostat.
  • If ice buildup is on the evaporator coil, make sure the condensate drip tray and drain located below are both free of debris.
  • For minor ice buildup, simply leave the HVAC system off for an hour or two and let the ice naturally melt on its own.
  • For major ice buildup, you can use a heat gun set on a medium temperature or an ordinary hairdryer at its highest temperature to hasten the thawing process.
  • Make sure to clean up any standing water left over from the thawing process.  

How Can You Prevent It From Happening?

After dealing with a bout of ice buildup, there's plenty you can do to keep it from becoming a problem at a later date. For instance, changing your air filter on a regular basis can help prevent one or more of the causes of ice buildup, plus it can improve your home's indoor air quality as a welcome bonus.

Here are a few other things you can do to stop ice buildup in its tracks:

  • Have your evaporator and condenser coil cleaned on a regular basis. It's usually best to have your HVAC contractor perform this task, since he or she will have the right tools and expertise to successfully clean the coils without causing any damage.
  • Have your HVAC contractor regularly check your HVAC system's refrigerant charge. Your contractor will also check for leaks in the refrigerant lines, as well as various seals and other refrigerant-handling components.
  • Make sure there aren't any obstructions blocking the return air intake grille. These obstructions include drapes, bookcases, sofas, and other furniture.

Regularly scheduled maintenance by a seasoned HVAC contractor from companies like Green  Air Inc. can help prevent many of the issues that could lead to ice buildup on your HVAC system.