When we think of maintaining our facilities during the winter months, our first thoughts generally go to removing snow from the parking lot and walkways. That is definitely an important area of focus, as snow and ice have been known to lead to slip and fall injuries.

However, there is another component of your property that will need your attention during the cold snowy months — your HVAC units.

The winter season is hard on your HVAC units, as they are exposed to harsh elements and end up working extra hard to meet the demands of the cold weather. Maintaining your HVAC units and protecting them from the repercussions of snow and ice can save you a lot of money, not to mention aggravation.

Here are three tips that will protect the investment in your facility's HVAC system:

1. Ensure the space around the HVAC units are clear

Outdoor HVAC units are designed to withstand the weather, including snow and ice. However, there are limitations in what they can handle and still run properly.

For example, if the HVAC unit or its coils become encased in ice, you could face some problems. No matter what season, HVAC units must have free airflow, meaning don't let snow accumulate on the units in the winter months.

In addition, make sure the snow is shoveled around the HVAC unit, so snow doesn't get packed in. At the same time, be cautious when shoveling — the last thing you want is to cause damage from the shovel itself.

2. Minimize water damage

Completely avoiding water exposure to your HVAC unit is nearly impossible, especially in the winter when snow thaws. Yet you can minimize water damage in your HVAC unit and around it by ensuring there is proper drainage and that runoff is possible.

Icicles are another consideration when protecting your HVAC units. Make sure there are no icicles above the units to avoid dripping water.

Just like the first tip mentioned, clear snow and ice from the unit, coils and outside pipes, which will help prevent the natural process of thawing and freezing that could cause the unit to stop functioning properly.

3. Keep up the maintenance

Proper maintenance of HVAC units should be a yearlong endeavor. It's just like the old saying: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This concept couldn't be any more relevant to maintaining your HVAC system.

Proper maintenance will go a long way in avoiding costly repairs and can even cut down on your facility's electric bill. Maintenance includes such tasks as replacing filters, ensuring air flows freely, checking the units on a regular basis for damage and keeping the units protected from the harsh winter elements.

The best approach to protecting your facility during the winter months, including your HVAC system, is to plan ahead. A snow management plan should be created before the storms hit, so you know what actions need to be taken and who is responsible for getting them done.

With winter around the corner, snow and ice should be on your radar.