You are rightly proud of the ductless heat pump; it delivers a constant flow of fresh warm, or cold air to comfort you all year round. It’s never let you down, so you take it for granted. Until one evening, just as you are heading to bed, you realize your pump is quieter than usual. In fact, there’s no sound at all; it’s not running. It is freezing outside; your home will be like an icebox by morning.
The remote clicks, but the power light is off, and there’s no response. Now you are concerned, you’ve ignored the offer of a maintenance contract from the installer, so you curse silently and head outdoors in the dark with a torch to see what’s wrong. When you reach the unit, it’s eerily silent – it’s dead.
You open up your garage, locate the toolbox and head back to kneel before the silent machine with an unspoken prayer (as if that’s going to help). What did you do to deserve this?
Well, nothing actually, and that’s the issue.
A few simple tasks done regularly would have saved you from the current situation. When you open the unit up, it’s full of rubbish – dead leaves, lawn clippings, and old discarded paper wrappers, twigs, and other garden detritus. No wonder it decided enough was enough.
Ductless heat pumps are simple to maintain. They don’t require detailed or complex maintenance, just a little regular tender care, and attention; then, they will perform correctly.
It is one of the most appealing things about them – low-maintenance. But there’s low, and there’s subterranean, or no maintenance, which is the category you are in. And it’s why you are in your garden kneeling on the ground, freezing your fingers and other parts of your anatomy off.
Follow these 4 simple maintenance routines and tune-up tips for future peace of mind.
Here are some easy tips to keep the unit running correctly, in between annual or bi-annual professional maintenance visits. (See Tip #3)
It’s a simple task to clean the filters from the indoor part of your ductless heat pump every month. Remove the filters, take them outdoors and clean the worst of the dust off with a soft brush then wash them to remove any stubborn grime. Leave them to dry before replacing them. Clean the exterior of the unit with a damp cloth.
If you have pets at home that cast hair, clean the filters every two weeks to avoid a build-up of hair. If the filters block, it dramatically reduces the efficiency of the unit, and it will eventually start to leak condensate, which will alert you to a problem with dirty filters.
Doing this simple task takes only a few minutes and will help keep the efficiency of the unit at peak levels. That means it uses less power and produces more output in hot or cool air.
Every 3 months, clean the fan blades of any deposits using a bristle brush. Individually remove any debris from the base and blower utilizing a vacuum. If this build-up is allowed to accumulate, it could cause the fan to run erratically, affecting its efficiency and may result in the motor burning out.
When you are mowing the lawn or clearing leaves or other garden detritus, make sure you clear everything away from the outdoor unit: grass clippings, leaves and twigs, and paper wrappers. The air intake grills must always be kept clear.
Check for insects and spiders, droppings, and organic debris, which disintegrates over time into a soggy mulch, which can lead to corrosion.
Always keep the area around the unit clear of plant growth and other types of vegetation to ensure uninterrupted airflow. Plants that are too close can be sucked inside the unit and reduce its life, plus they will continue to grow. Make sure all plants are at least two feet away from the unit. A clean system transfers heat better, cools more efficiently, and costs less to operate.
It’s suggested you carry out a thorough cleaning of the outdoor unit, every six months. This should be a DIY job unless the unit is faulty, in which case you may need to call in a professional.
The cleaning process:
Switch off the power, remove the panels, and any waste materials from inside the unit. Clean the inside and the fan with a low-pressure garden hose. Don’t use a high-pressure washer as it can damage the coils. Soak the coils with water and use a soft brush to remove debris gently. The unit will work at peak performance when the coils are clean with uninterrupted airflow. Make sure the condensate drain hose isn’t kinked or blocked and runs freely.
When the unit is new and under warranty, you could skip this commitment, but as time slips past, it will be worth it. The average life of a heat pump is around 14 years, according to AHRI (The Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration Institute), while newer and well-maintained units will last longer.
With an annual maintenance contract, you will always be assured the system is in top condition. Part of the contract will be a regular annual service call and full system check, catching any possible faults early, and making sure the unit is up to the manufacturer’s specifications. If you do suffer a breakdown, an engineer will be there, usually with no emergency call out charges, to get you up and to run again as quickly as possible. Remember, these things always happen at the worst possible times.
Normally the contract will cover labor costs, parts, and emergency out of hours costs, but check the details and the small print thoroughly.
Heat pump servicing costs vary dramatically over the country and depend on a number of factors: location, age, and complexity of the system and the frequency of service calls.
To understand the value of a maintenance contract, it is worth looking at the cost of a single repair against the cost of a contract. According to HomeAdvisor the national average cost for a heat pump repair can be anything between $347 and $1,250, even more.
Against that, the cost of a regular preventative heat pump maintenance visit is around $200. It’s clear, regular maintenance is both smart and saves you money. It’s worth noting if you take a contract with your regular HVAC contractor, you may save because you are an existing customer. It’s worth asking the question.
Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) were concerned by the differences in what was being offered in maintenance contracts. They stated: “There was no way to determine if the many types of “seasonal tune-ups”, “clean and checks”, and “maintenance services” performed on HVAC equipment were equivalent.” [Source]
The ACCA decided to create a standard to provide a nationally-recognized, manufacturer-endorsed set of inspection tasks which would meet this need. You can download the standard here.
If your winters are snowy with icy low temperatures, it’s important to clear any build-up from the outdoor unit. It depends on uninterrupted airflow to work efficiently. When you are out clearing the paths and the driveway for your car, check the outdoor unit at the same time. If it’s clear, it will work correctly.
Set up and follow a few simple maintenance routines to keep the ductless heat pump working perfectly. If you have kids who are old enough, involve them too. After all, they will feel the cold or heat just as much as you do if the unit stops working.
Print it out and stick it on the ‘fridge so everyone can see what needs to be done and when. Show them what to do and have them help you. They’ll love ticking them off as they are done, and reminding you what needs to be done next.
It will soon become routine, and your ductless heat pump will reward you by running efficiently and smoothly for a very long time.
It’s a win, win situation.