Though conventional furnaces and air conditioners are standard in many homes, heat pumps offer a heating and cooling solution for millions of homeowners across the country and beyond. Because they do twice the work that a regular furnace or air conditioner does, for those who have recently installed a heat pump or are new to how heat pumps operate, it may seem like they’ll burden you with twice as many problems. The truth is, however, that though they work differently, they are a reliable and effective form of indoor temperature control and there are still many issues you can resolve on your own when something goes wrong.
WHERE TO START: THE BASICS
Before troubleshooting, it’s important to ensure routine maintenance is performed on your heat pump in order to allow it to run efficiently and effectively and prevent problems before they appear. If you’re up to date on repairs and maintenance and are still experiencing issues, there are a few simple things you can try yourself.
Check the Thermostat:
If your heat pump simply isn’t working, try first checking the thermostat. If heat is what you’re after, try setting it a couple of degrees above room temperature. If you’re cooling, set it 2 to 4 degrees lower. Once this is done, turn on the fan.
Fan Doesn’t Start:
First, begin by checking fuses or breakers. If a fuse is blown, replace it. Alternatively, flip the circuit breaker to the closed position and start to determine what caused the overload. The problems could be as simple as a bad connection, a seized blower motor or shorted controller board. If the problem didn’t stem from a blown fuse or breaker, the issue may be due to old wiring on the pump or even a defective thermostat. Before moving on, try tightening or replacing loose terminals.
If your heat pump issues are more complex and can’t be solved by the above methods, there are some telltale signs to watch out for that can help you determine where the problems stem from and how you can fix them.
During the summer months, your heat pump should never be icing up at any time. If you inspect the heat pump and find this has occurred, the problem is likely from a refrigerant leak, a clogged filter or dirty coils that are preventing heat from transferring in the way that it should.
Unlike when it’s blowing heat in the winter, a constantly running unit in the summer months likely means it’s time to call for service. Before you do, though, ensure that the thermostat is set correctly. If it is, then the problem may be caused by leaking refrigerant, a frozen outdoor unit or a compressor issue. In some cases, a constantly running heat pump during the summer means that it is simply not large enough for your home and is struggling to meet the demand of rising outdoor temperatures.
Not Blowing Cool Air:
If your heat pump isn’t blowing cool air when it should be, there are a few simple things to check. First, ensure the temperature on the thermostat is set a couple degrees lower than the indoor temperature and that it is also set to automatic. Next, check that the fan is working and that all room registers are in the open position. If you do not notice any obvious problems, it’s time to go a little deeper. Start by ensuring the coils on the outdoor condensing unit are clean and free of debris. You may also find one of the reasons that you’re not longer receiving cool air is that the refrigerant is low. If this is the case, the pump cannot work correctly. As a result, you’ll need to call an HVAC technician to fix the problem, as a procedure like this isn’t safe to do yourself.
During the winter months, it’s not uncommon for the outdoor unit to build up a coating of ice and frost. If the frost becomes too heavy and encases the coils in ice, however, it indicates a problem that hampers the transfer of heat and impedes optimal operating. If taken care of in a timely manner, it shouldn’t be a problem, but prolonged exposure to ice can damage the coils, fins, and fan blades.
Before You Diagnose:
If there is no frost or ice on the unit, try checking the airflow to ensure it isn’t blocked by debris. Outdoor materials, such as sticks, leaves, weeds and even grass clippings can build up and accumulate to prevent air from being taken in and blowing out. You should also check to determine that the fan motor is running properly. If not, there may be an issue with the wiring or compressor.
Icing of the outdoor unit during the winter can be indicative of a number of issues. One of the first to consider is whether the defroster is functioning normally. This mechanics allows the unit to briefly and temporarily switch to air conditioning to heat up the coils and melt ice. If this isn’t working, build up can occur quickly. Likewise, a leak of refrigerant can cause problems and make it so that the system doesn’t produce enough heat to rid itself of ice. For most defrosting issues, it’s advised to contact an HVAC service technician. It’s never advised to try to chip away the ice yourself. The delicate nature of the components means that it’s quite easy to do serious damage to the unit. It’s best to let a professional handle the problem in this case.
Not Blowing Warm Air:
Like with cooling problems, you’ll want to start by making sure your thermostat is set to heat and that it’s a couple degrees higher than room temperature. Check that the fan is working and the registers in each room are open. If you’re used to the heat that a furnace blows, it’s important to note that a heat pump won’t create the same level of heat with the same intensity. It’s also worth noting that in order for the outdoor unit to defrost, the heat pump will temporarily blow air of the opposite temperature briefly. This will only last a minute or so, however. If you’re still experiencing problems, try checking the air filter to make sure it’s not clogged and that the outdoor coils are free of debris. If you still can’t get heat to blow, it’s time to call a service tech to diagnose the problem professionally.
As you can see, many heat pump problems can be solved by a few simple adjustments. When taking the time to inspect and troubleshoot, you should have good luck tackling these issues yourself. Should they become chronic and repeating, however, it may be time to contact an HVAC service professional to service your heat pump and perform any necessary repairs.