How Extreme Cold Affects Your Appliances

cold weather appliances

Can freezing temperatures damage your home appliances? Should you turn off your heat before leaving for vacation? Here’s what winter weather can do to your appliances — and what you should do help prevent problems.

Old Man Winter is here, and he’s ushering in the coldest months of the year, along with ice and snow in many parts of the country. When the temperatures dip below freezing, how does it affect your appliances? Is there anything you can do to prep for it? And, if you live down south, do you even need to worry about it?

The answers? Yes, yes and yes. Cold weather does affect your appliances, especially those in basements, garages and on outside walls. But don’t worry: There are several steps you can take to help prevent freezing temps from taking their toll. Southerners aren’t completely in the clear, either. While it doesn’t happen often, the South sometimes does get hit by snow and ice storms. Better safe than sorry.

First thing’s first: If you’re headed out on vacation or for the entire winter, don’t turn your heat all the way off, cautions the U.S. Department of Energy — just turn it down. The ideal temp depends on where you live and how drafty or energy-efficient your house is, but a good rule of thumb is no lower than 55 degrees. That can help reduce your energy bill sufficiently and also keep your pipes from freezing during extreme cold.

Here are a few other appliance-specific tips from the Sears experts to help you weather extreme temps.

Washing Machine

Your washer is all about water, which is why it’s so vulnerable to extreme cold. Hoses fill the tub before a cycle, and pumps drain the water when it’s done. The drum spins your clothes, getting excess water out before you pop the load in the dryer. If your washer is indoors but sits against a poorly-insulated, outside-facing wall — like in the garage or in your basement where the temperature drops below freezing — you might find yourself with ice instead of water in those hoses and pumps. That can cause the water intake valve to break, and you could have water everywhere when the temp warms up.

How can you prevent this from happening? Here are a few ways.

  • Disconnect your water lines from the wall and only connect them when you’re actually running a load.
  • Wrap your washer’s hoses with pipe insulation. (You are insulating your water pipes, too, right? Because you should be.)

Refrigerator

Barring a complete loss of power and heat during extremely cold weather, the refrigerator in your kitchen should be safe and protected from the elements. But if you have a second fridge or freezer in the basement or garage, here’s how to prep it for frigid temps.

  • Use a space heater. Use a space heater in your chilly garage or basement on very cold days. Just don’t ever leave it on overnight or when you’re not home.
  • Disconnect or insulate the hoses. If you have an ice maker and the appliance is connected to a water supply, your hoses can freeze just like those in your washer. The garage temperature needs to be kept above freezing (32°F) or the water components — water lines, water valves and the water reservoir — may become damaged. If unable to maintain a temperature above freezing in the garage, then disconnect the water line, and drain the reservoir. Water can be reconnected during the warmer seasons.

HVAC System

Your condenser (outdoor) unit should be OK. Units are actually designed to deal with cold temps, snow and ice, so regular winter weather generally isn’t a problem. However, if your HVAC unit gets encased with ice and snow, it can trigger an emergency shut-off. If the HVAC unit is not maintaining the desired indoor temperature, it should then switch over to the secondary heat or emergency heat (electric heat strips). Especially if you’re not around to notice the heat’s off, you could find yourself with frozen, broken pipes and serious water damage as a result.

Here are a few things you can do to help prevent that.

  • Build a firewall. Heat pumps and outdoor units should be placed where there is a minimal chance of the unit getting covered by snow or snowdrifts. In areas that do get a lot of snow, the condenser should be placed on a platform to raise it above normal snow accumulation. During higher than normal levels of snowfall, the area should be kept clear. Consider building a fence or a literal wall around your unit so snow can’t drift to cover it. Just make sure to allow for enough airflow on all sides.
  • Clear the area. Shovel around your HVAC unit. Also make sure your gutters aren’t leaking water onto the unit, which will then freeze. With a little pre-season prep and some mindful monitoring, your appliances should make it through winter just fine.

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