Is Your HVAC System Clogged with Leaves?

October 08, 2019

raking leaves

So, most people (including us) are excited for fall!  The season of breezier weather, Halloween, and pumpkin spice lattes is officially upon us.

But one thing you're probably not looking forward to is fall leaves, despite how pretty they look! At the end of the day, it just means more outdoor chores. Bagging, mowing, composting, blowing...Whatever your method, you want to keep your lawn, and your gutters, leaf-free!

However, there's one thing around your home that might be dangerously clogged with leaves right now, without you even realizing...your HVAC system.

Yes, leaves are getting stuck in your outdoor A/C unit, or in your furnace pipes. If you're wondering exactly what that means, and why a leaf blockage poses several, even potentially deadly hazards for you and your family, here's a quick explanation:

First, let's explain your furnace.

If you walk around the outside of your house, you'll see a couple of (probably white) PVC pipes, right next to each other.

One of them is the intake pipe, which brings in outdoor air to be heated. The other pipe is the exhaust pipe…which ejects exhaust fumes that SHOULD NOT be entering your house!

The first thing that happens in your furnace is, the burner pushes gas into what's called a heat exchanger. This is where gas and air coming in from the intake pipe combine, and create heat to be distributed throughout your home.

This igniting process, called combustion, creates hazardous byproducts like carbon monoxide. It's very important, of course, that these toxic fumes never make it indoors! That's where the furnace exhaust comes in: venting the bad gas from the heat exchanger back outside, through the exhaust pipe.

schematic of a condensing furance

(Image: Wikipedia)

If leaves are blocking your intake pipe, that's not quite so bad; it just means that air won't be able to enter your furnace at all, and your furnace will simply stop working. But if your exhaust pipe gets blocked with leaves, and your furnace's built-in safety mechanism fails to kick in to shut down your furnace…then that means dangerous fumes like carbon monoxide get trapped in your home with you!

So, it's very important that, especially in the event of failure of safety features, you keep these pipes clear!

Now, let's talk about your outdoor A/C unit.

When hot air is absorbed and pumped from inside your house, to the A/C unit outside, it goes through what's called a compressor. The compressor is what allows your cooling fluid (aka refrigerant) to keep moving through the A/C system.

If the compressor is clogged with little leaf pieces, not only will your refrigerant get trapped, causing the A/C to stop working...but also, mold or bacteria can grow! You'd be surprised how many New Jersey homes have mold infestation in the air ducts!

While not as dangerous as carbon monoxide poisoning, mold can lead to all sorts of respiratory issues. In both these cases, HVAC unit problems are not only super inconvenient, but also create health risks for you and your family.

Keeping both your furnace pipes and your AC unit cleared of leaves is very important! But, of course, that bit of preventative maintenance on your part isn't quite enough, either.

Leaf litter is often very small and hard to remove, and also, you've got both interior and exterior parts of your HVAC system to consider!

So, when it comes to your furnace or ventilation system, of course there are checks that you can do, from making sure your furnace pipes are clear, to keeping your outdoor A/C unit clean by vacuuming it. (Turn off the power first!) You might also consider buying a cover for your unit to prepare for the fall and winter.

But as you know, most HVAC issues go beyond what you can see or fix just by doing your own routine cleanings.

Whether you get a lot of leaves or not, it's smart to have a professional HVAC cleaning and inspecting done every fall. October in New Jersey can be pretty extreme: one day you might be cranking up the A/C, and the next you're turning on the heat. Either way, it's best to get your HVAC system checked and tuned up professionally before winter hits.

Call A.J. Perri now and we'll talk you through our services, explain our 100% satisfaction-guaranteed warranties, and give you an amazing mulled cider recipe.

For now, happy fall, and make sure those leaves are safely bagged...or in a fun pile to jump into!


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Last Updated: June 04, 2024