How to Troubleshoot Heat Pumps in Winter - Problems and Repair Tips

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Heat pumps are essential devices to have at home, especially during the winter, when the heating costs are the highest. Learn how to perform basic troubleshooting of the heat pumps and avoid long-lasting problems during cold winters.

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Your heat pump might encounter various problems during winter, and it’s important to know how to fix them. It is even better to protect the heat pump in winter, and if not eliminate the cause, then reduce the risk of breaking. This article will discuss common heat pump problems during cold weather and how to troubleshoot them.

Common winter problems for heat pumps

Most heat pump problems that occur in winter and when devices are in "HEAT" mode are relatively easy to fix, while more complex ones require professional assistance. Some issues can be fixed with a little cleaning, regular maintenance, and checking from time to time.

Check out this troubleshooting guide for additional help.

The best time to call a technician is if the problem is beyond you.

Here are some common problems  that might occur to your heat pump in winter, and tips on how to fix issues.

Frozen heat pump

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A frozen heat pump is a very common issue amongst homeowners. However, usually, it’s normal to see heat pumps freezing up in winter. Most heat pumps have a defrost cycle that switches on when there’s excessive frost buildup. Defrost cycles usually last for 10 to 15 minutes. So, if the defrost cycle continues for more than 30 minutes, you need to check your heat pump for proper work.

If the heat pumps are not defrosting use the guide andfind out why and how to solve it.

Lack of airflow through the coils and fins is one of the usual reasons your why your heat pump might freeze over. Checking your heat pump and its surroundings for air flow obstructions are the first thing you can do. You can clear the debris and excess snow around the unit if there’s any. If there are plants growing near it, make sure to trim them up to 18 inches away from the unit.

You should also clean the filter regularly to help maintain proper airflow.

But if the unit is iced over, melt it down with a garden hose. NEVER pick away at the ice with a sharp object as it will damage the heat pump’s fins.

Heat pump blows cold air

Usually, a heat pump suddenly blowing cold air into your home is nothing to be immediately worried about. If the air is below a certain temperature, the heat in your home will drop too. However, there are still things you can check for.

See if the heat pump is in “defrost” or “cooling” mode. When a heat pump is in defrost mode, it uses the heat from the coils to melt the ice and temporarily blows cold air into your home. Don’t worry as during this time, the backup heat will kick in. You can also check if the thermostat is in “heat” or “cool”. Make sure the thermostat is set to the temperature you want your home to have.

However, if none of these are the problem, you may want to contact a technician for this. Problems may include refrigerant leaks or malfunctioning valves. These may be most likely if your unit is still blowing cold air in “heat” mode.

Constantly running the heat pump

Keep in mind that heat pumps constantly running during winter is normal occurrence. However, it should shut off and on in cycles when the temperature is above 30 degrees. If it still runs in these temperatures, you may want to check your insulation. The heat pump will be forced to work more to heat your home if cold air keeps getting in. Check the walls for any leaks and holes. As much as possible, keep doors and windows closed when your heat pump is running.

However, if heat pumps run continuously due to refrigerant leaks or faulty valves, you might want to call for maintenance service. In any case, do not turn off your heat pump. This will incur higher electricity charges since your backup heat will start running.

Drainage problems

Improper drainage in your heat pump may cause other malfunctions like freezing over or complete breakdown. Check the position of your heat pump and see if there are leaks. Unsteady surfaces or prolonged exposure to the elements usually cause draining problems in heat pumps. Ice will accumulate in the heat pump if the leaks are not fixed.

To fix this, place your heat pump on more stable ground where snow and rain can’t reach it. However, take note that not all leaks are problems. Some of them might not even be leaks. Puddles you see near or under your unit could be condensation, or the ice melted from the defrost cycle. In any case, keep your heat pump in a steady and dry area to prevent draining problems.

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Sudden heat loss or lack of heat

We know that heat pumps generate less heat than gas furnaces and other conventional HVAC units. However, they run more steadily and efficiently since they merely transfer heat from the air outside. So, you might get worried when the heat pump doesn’t heat your home enough. However, you shouldn’t dismiss this.

We mentioned that a lack of airflow could freeze your unit. These could also contribute to the lack of heat coming from the unit. The inner parts of the heat pump might likely be dirty. These are usually fins, filters, and coils. You may also need to check the ducts to see if they have accumulated dirt. Faulty valves and leaking refrigerants are also things to look out for.

For troubleshooting, you need to make sure the heat pump has enough ventilation. You can start by cleaning the heat pump’s parts, particularly the coils and the filter. Your ducts may need inspection and maintenance as well. Make sure that nearby vegetation isn’t blocking the unit. For indoor pumps, keep furniture away from it.

How to minimize winter heat pump problems

We talked about how to troubleshoot heat pump problems in winter. But it’s better to take precautions to make sure your heat pump doesn’t malfunction during winter. Here are some measures you can do to maintain your heat pump before and during winter. You can do some of these procedures by yourself as they usually entail cleaning.

Cleaning and checking your heat pump

You may have noticed that most tips for troubleshooting involve cleaning the heat pump. That’s because airflow affects its performance, and consequently, its condition. Here is a quick rundown of what you need to check on when inspecting your heat pump for the winter:

Air filter – most of a heat pump’s performance depends on the air filter. Make sure to check and clean or replace the air filter every 3 months.

Ductwork – make sure that your ducts are open or that nothing is blocking it. Never close your air ducts just to warm one room. It will add pressure to the ducts and a heat pump, and cause leaks.

Surroundings – the elements are harsher on your heat pump during winter. Elevate your heat pump to keep snow and rain away from it. Trim any nearby plants and clean around the unit to prevent debris from getting in. Lastly, make sure there are no leaking roof gutters above your unit. The water dripping from it could damage your unit.

These are only some of the tips you can do to maintain your heat pump for the winter. For other maintenance procedures you can’t do, contact your local maintenance service to help you out. It’s best to keep your heat pump at its best, especially in the winter.

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