Common Winter Complaints and Solutions for Heat Pumps

Heat pumps are highly efficient and useful devices in keeping us comfy in winter, but are prone to certain common ailments the homeowner should be aware of and ready to hand over to professional servicing.

Heat Pumps are Prone to These Problems

Increased cold and moisture during the winter season will magnify the tendency of the condensing coils in heat pumps to form frost and to ice up. Normally, this is offset by a mechanical timer in older models and electronic sensors and controls in newer ones that kick in a defrost circuit when necessary. Failure of this to properly handle the heat pump can stem from a number of factors.

  • Snow and ice buildup on the top of the unit preventing proper de-icing. Commercially available heat pump covers are obtainable, or a custom cover can be built.

  • Blown-in twigs, dirt and leaves can clog the area around the coils and prevent effective de-icing. Periodic cleaning and maintenance and inspections after windstorms and during leaf-drop are advised to help maintain the longevity and health of your heat pump system.

  • Gutter leaks, fouling or defects in channeling water off the roof may allow drips and runoff to fall onto the heat pump and freeze on the condenser coils. This is beyond the ability of the de-frost circuit to handle. Inspection and proper installation, repair and cleaning of gutters and roof runoff channels prevent this.

  • Heat pumps should be installed high enough above surrounding ground levels to prevent running water from flooding around the lower part of the unit and freezing on the coils.

  • In some cases, at installation it may have been properly positioned, but soft earth and weather action may have led to it sinking into the ground.

  • Growth of surrounding grass or plants can build up layers and raise the surface level.

  • Freezing rain, freezing or melting snow, and combined snow and ice buildup on the ground can also lead to similar exposure to water running around the coils.

Watch for signs of any of these and apply whatever gardening or maintenance steps are necessary to correct them. Note that installing feet or blocks to raise heat pumps should be done by a trained technician.

How to Rid Heat Pumps of Ice


Rule #1: never ever try to defrost coils using a sharp instrument or tool to knock ice loose. There is a very good chance of damaging or puncturing the coils and rendering your unit inoperable.

If you have to de-ice, shut off the unit and use a garden hose to run water over the ice to melt it away. At the same time you can observe whether there is fouling from leaves and other refuse and clear that away.

Call in a Heat Pump Professional

Some HVAC professionals offer seasonal service checks and maintenance specials and provide membership deals covering regular maintenance and service throughout the year. Such deals will sometimes also grant discounts on major parts, repairs and upgrades. Don’t be caught sitting in your house watching your own breath condense. Take preventive actions now.

Creative Commons Attribution: Permission is granted to repost this article in its entirety with credit to Alley and Co. Heating/Air and a clickable link back to this page.

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