Although heat pumps are made to withstand the wrath of Old Man Winter, they can freeze up and cause you problems. But before you panic, remember that a little frost or ice on a heat pump is perfectly normal. Heat pumps are equipped with a defrost cycle, and with routine maintenance, they can quickly resolve icing issues on their own. However, you should take serious action to prevent damage to your heat pump if you see any of the following signs:
- Entire unit is encased in ice
- Frost is visible on coils but the frost signal isn’t triggered
- The unit can’t pull air through the fins
- Top of the unit and coils are coated with ice
- The ice has been there for a while
This article focuses on what causes ice buildup on a heat pump and how to prevent it.
What Is a Heat Pump?
A heat pump is basically an air conditioner that runs backward to provide heat. They’re most often split systems, such as a combination of a furnace and air conditioning unit with the heat pump taking the place of an outside AC unit.
The systems are usually paired with a blower coil or air handler that connects to your ductwork system. Other heat pumps are wall-sleeve or packaged varieties used in condos or apartments.
A heat pump uses electricity to provide your home with both heating and air conditioning. They are very efficient at transferring heat to places where it’s needed. In summer, cooling is provided by transferring heat from indoors to the outside. In winter, a heat pump extracts heat from outside your home and moves it inside.
What Are the Main Types of Heat Pumps?
The thermal energy source a heat pump uses determines what type it is. Pumps that draw heat from the ambient air are classified as air-source heat pumps. Units that suck thermal energy from a stream or pond are known as water-source heat pumps. Those that draw heat from the ground or groundwater are known as ground-source or geothermal heat pumps. Absorption heat pumps that run on fossil gas are also available but aren’t effective for decarbonization.
In addition to how they gather thermal energy, heat pumps are also categorized by what they transfer energy to. An air-to-air heat pump collects thermal energy from the outside air and releases it indoors. An air-to-water system gathers warm air and uses it to heat water to circulate through radiators.
What Causes Ice Buildup in a Heat Pump?
Icing may occur if you have an issue with your heat pump’s blower. Make sure you can feel air blowing through the heat pump’s vent. If not, your home won’t receive sufficient heat.
A dirty filter can cause ice buildup. Always change the filter on your heat pump regularly. If your filter is clogged, the airflow will be compromised and it will be easier for ice to build up.
The debris that blocks the condensing fan’s motor blades can prevent it from functioning properly. These motor blades are located on the outside of the heat pump. Check around the condensing fan motor and clear away any dirt, twigs, leaves, or snow.
One cause of ice buildup that may go unnoticed is a drainpipe or gutter dripping from overhead onto the heat pump below. This is easily fixed by turning the gutter or pipe.
Moisture that builds up in below-freezing temperatures can cause an ice buildup. When a heat pump is set too low to the ground, the moisture can’t drain and quickly turns to ice. A simple solution is to use a base to prop the pump off the ground.
Ways to Prevent Ice Buildup
Have Your Heat Pump Installed by a Professional
Ice issues and other problems can occur quickly and often when a heat pump isn’t installed by professionals. The installation process involves multiple steps, and it isn’t recommended that homeowners undertake the task themselves. If you are considering converting to a heat pump for your home’s major heating source, let the professionals at Beltway Air Conditioning & Heating help you get years of service from your heat pump.
Schedule Regular Maintenance
Just like any HVAC system in your home, a heat pump requires regularly scheduled maintenance to operate effectively and efficiently. Contact a specialist from Beltway Air Conditioning & Heating for annual maintenance. Here are the regular maintenance tasks you can expect from us.
- Check the airflow
- Listen for unusual noises
- Clean and/or replace filters
- Clean the entire unit
- De-ice if needed
- Add refrigerant
Use the Defrost Cycle
Your heat pump’s defrost cycle automatically changes the valve to air conditioning mode. The outdoor fan shuts off and the evaporator turns into a condenser, heating up the refrigerant. In turn, the warmed refrigerant melts ice from the coils, a common place where ice is found.
If your heat pump is an older model, you must set the timer so the pump knows to switch to defrost mode. New models have automatic sensors that kick off the defrost cycle as needed. One works just as well as the other. Consult your owner’s manual to determine what model you have.
The defrost cycle is a critical feature in places such as the northern United States. These areas experience very cold winters. The unit reverses the flow of refrigerant through the coils automatically by going into a defrost cycle. Through reversal, the hot refrigerant flows to the frozen outside coils. Accumulated ice on the outdoor unit will melt quickly.
Temperature sensors inside the heat pump trigger the defrost cycle as needed and end it once the ice is melted. Since the defrost function doesn’t continuously run, energy efficiency is maximized. Each defrost cycle runs about 10 to 15 minutes and is usually enough to keep your heat pump functioning properly even in the coldest temperatures.
Use a Garden Hose
If your heat pump only has a small amount of ice buildup, you can use your water hose to melt away the ice with water. First, use your circuit breaker to turn the pump off to avoid an electrical shock. Once the power is off, grab your hose and spray the heat pump with water to melt the ice. Resist the urge to hammer or chip the ice away; you could damage your unit. If the temperature is on the temperate side, turn your heat pump back on and put it in fan mode to help melt the ice. For bigger problems, consult the professionals at Beltway Air Conditioning & Heating.
Our Professional Services
At Beltway Air Conditioning & Heating, we have been installing heat pumps in the Hanover, MD area for a long time, so we’re experts at what we do. We have the knowledge and expertise to maintain, repair, or replace your heat pump. Additionally, we can perform ductwork, duct cleaning, and quality air checks. Contact us in winter or summer for all of your heating and cooling needs. We are standing by to assist you.