Here in the Eastern Panhandle, many homeowners rely on heat pumps to keep their homes at a comfortable temperature all year long. It’s hard to beat the convenience of an appliance that both warms your home in the winter and cools your home in the summer.
Energy efficiency is another key benefit of a heat pump for those living in our area. “For climates with moderate heating and cooling needs, heat pumps offer an energy-efficient alternative to furnaces and air conditioners,” according to an article on the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Saver website.
Those energy savings generally mean lower utility bills for homeowners: “Because they move heat rather than generate heat, heat pumps can provide equivalent space conditioning at as little as one quarter (25 percent) of the cost of operating conventional heating or cooling appliances,” the DOE says.
Heat pumps typically yield significant savings when it comes to heating costs. As the largest energy expense for the average U.S. homeowner, space heating accounts for a whopping 45 percent of energy bills, according to this infographic by the DOE. However, “today’s heat pump can reduce your electricity use for heating by approximately 50 percent compared to electric resistance heating such as furnaces and baseboard heaters,” the DOE says.
As with all heating systems, of course, proper care and maintenance are crucial for efficient operation of your heat pump. “The difference between the energy consumption of a well-maintained heat pump and a severely neglected one ranges from 10 percent to 25 percent,” according to another article on the DOE’s Energy Saver website.
Proper care and maintenance also can prevent most major heat pump problems. However, it’s always possible that something could go wrong—especially during extreme cold when your heat pump is working overtime.
Here are five common heat pump problems, and how you should handle them:
1. Sudden Loss of Heat
If your heat pump suddenly stops producing heat, first of all, don’t panic. The problem could be something as easy to solve as adjusting the thermostat. Before you do anything else, check the thermostat to see that your heat pump is turned on and set to heat. You never know—perhaps someone in your household turned the unit off but forgot to switch it back on.
Did you recently replace your thermostat? That could be the culprit. “If the thermostat was replaced recently, the new thermostat may either be the wrong type (it must be made for heat pumps) or it may have been wired improperly,” writes Don Vandervort in an article for HomeTips.com. “A mistakenly wired thermostat can fry electronic components, preventing the heat pump from working properly.”
If it’s not the thermostat preventing your heat pump from running, the problem could be a lack of power caused by a tripped circuit breaker. Check your home’s circuit breaker box, and if that is indeed the case, reset the circuit breaker.
If after ruling out all the above, your heat pump still isn’t working, contact us to schedule a service call from our expert HVAC technicians.
2. Not Enough Heat
If your heat pump is running but not warming your home sufficiently, a dirty air filter or other parts could be to blame. “Dirty filters, coils, and fans reduce airflow through the system,” the DOE says. “Reduced airflow decreases system performance and can damage your system’s compressor.”
Inspect your air filter once a month, especially during winter and summer when usage tends to be higher. “If the filter looks dirty after a month, change it,” advises Energy Star. “At a minimum, change the filter every 3 months.” Check your heat pump’s use and care guide for model-specific instructions on how to replace or clean air filters.
Also regularly clean other parts of your heat pump to keep it functioning effectively: “Clean outdoor coils whenever they appear dirty; occasionally, turn off power to the fan and clean it; remove vegetation and clutter from around the outdoor unit,” the DOE recommends. “Clean the supply and return registers in your home, and straighten their fins if bent.” Also make sure the registers aren’t blocked by furniture, rugs, or drapes that could impede airflow.
Other potential causes of a heat pump’s insufficient heat production include: blocked air ducts, faulty valves, or poor refrigerant flow.
3. Blowing Cold Air
If your heat pump’s fan is running, but you feel cold air coming from your air vents, there may be a problem with your system’s thermostat or air handler.
Don’t automatically assume the worst, though. Remember: “Heat pumps don’t discharge air that is as hot as the air discharged by oil or gas forced-air furnaces, so don’t expect their output to feel like that of a furnace,” Vandervort writes. He also notes “that a heat pump may go into a defrost mode to prevent icing up. When this happens, it can temporarily output cold air.”
If your heat pump is producing much cooler air than usual, though, try to find the source of the problem by setting your thermostat to emergency heat and seeing if warm air flows out of the vents. “Make sure the thermostat is at least five degrees above room temp” when you do this, advises our retail partner Trane in its Heat Pump Troubleshooting Guide. “If you feel warm air, then the problem is with the outdoor unit. If you don’t feel warm air, you may have a defective thermostat or air handler to blame.”
When you inspect your outdoor unit, see if there’s frost or ice forming on the unit’s outdoor coil. “This may indicate a defective defroster timer or control module, or the unit could be low on refrigerant,” Trane says. Also check to ensure that airflow to the unit isn’t being impeded by debris like grass, weeds, sticks, or leaves.
Other problems that could cause your heat pump to blow cold air include faulty compressor valves or refrigerant flow issues.
4. Incorrect Cycling
If your heat pump cycles (i.e., turns off and on) too often, it could be overheating due to a clogged air filter or a malfunctioning blower, according to Vandervort. If the problem is the former, cleaning or changing your air filter may solve the problem.
Your system’s thermostat is another likely cause of incorrect cycling. It could simply be out of adjustment or need new batteries, for instance. Other thermostat problems aren’t as easy to fix and are best left to a professional HVAC technician. “When room temperature rises higher or drops lower than the set temperature on the thermostat, the problem is usually the heat anticipator in the thermostat,” Vandervort writes.
If your heat pump runs continuously, you may have your thermostat set too high. In extremely cold temperatures, for example, your heat pump must work harder to keep your home warm. Try setting your thermostat to a lower temperature (as low as is comfortable for you) to save it some effort. The DOE recommends setting your thermostat to 68°F while you’re awake and lower while you’re asleep or away from home to save you money on energy costs.
5. Making Odd Noises
If you hear rattling sounds coming from your heat pump, it could simply be loose hardware or an out-of-place register. “Be sure the cover panels are screwed on tight. If they aren’t, tighten them,” Vandervort advises. “Other noises may be coming from rattling ductwork or loose parts in the air handler.”
If you hear grinding or squealing sounds, turn off your heat pump immediately, and call us to schedule a service visit from our HVAC technicians. These sounds could indicate a more serious problem, such as worn-out motor bearings.
If you’re unsure about what you’re hearing, don’t hesitate to contact us. The sooner we’re able to diagnose and fix the cause of strange heat pump noises, and other issues, the better.
Call Your Total Energy Experts
At Sunfire Energy Solutions, we strive to offer our customers the most exceptional service in the Four-State area. Our certified HVAC technicians, who are fully trained in HVAC service as well as installation, are dedicated to meeting all your heating and cooling needs. You can rely on our expert approach to finding solutions to even the toughest HVAC challenges—and our craftsmen’s skill at tackling them.
We don’t just install and service HVAC equipment at Sunfire; we also sell it. In our 3,500-square-foot showroom, you’ll find HVAC products and hearth appliances from top brands including Luxaire, Trane, Quadra-Fire, Heat & Glo, Jøtul, Blaze King, and more.
Visit our showroom at 301 East Stephen Street in Martinsburg to browse our extensive product selection, or call us today at 304-267-3029 to learn more about our HVAC products and services.
Sunfire Energy Solutions is a one-stop shop for HVAC products and installation, hearth appliances, grills, outdoor furniture, and hot tubs. We serve customers in Martinsburg, Shepherdstown, Charles Town, Ranson, Hedgesville, and Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, as well as the surrounding region, including parts of Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Learn more at www.sunfireenergysolutions.com.