How to Protect Your Heat Pump from Snow & Ice
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Posted June 1, 2017
Homeowners everywhere have been bracing themselves for more extreme and unpredictable weather this winter season. A few particularly harsh winter days can mean two unfortunate consequences for you and your family: discomfort and expenses.
However, there may be additional consequences: the adverse effects of the elements on both your home and your HVAC system. It’s important to stay alert to ways you can protect your heat pump.
Have you taken the necessary precautions? We break it down below.
What Damage Am I Preventing?
For interior HVAC care, homeowners already know the basics. Change your air filters, use a programmable thermostat, and have your unit inspected annually by your local HVAC professionals.
For outside HVAC care, you’re looking at preventing the effects of weather-related damage in the winter, and even into spring. In the winter, you run the risk of clogging the unit with ice and snow. During every month, debris and storm damage can take its toll.
When you have ice and snow blocking the airflow between you heat pump and the outdoor air, you reduce the energy efficiency of your system and may even damage the unit beyond repair. While a thin layer of frost is completely normal, lots of snow and ice need to be taken care of.
You should inspect the perimeter of your home after every big snowstorm. If you have a gas furnace, make sure that your intake and exhaust pipes are free and clear. If your pipes are clogged, this can lead to combustion gases leaking into the home and a system shutdown.
Heat Pump Defrost Cycle
Heat pumps are manufactured to deal with an average amount of ice buildup by using its automatic defrost system and switching to heat-distribution mode. This cycle normally lasts around 15 minutes and works by returning the hot refrigerant back to the outdoor heat pump to melt the ice and snow (similar to how heat pumps work in the summer). You may notice some cool air coming out of your vents while the unit is going through its defrost cycle. This is normal. Just wait 10-15 minutes for the unit to kick back on.
In some units the electric heat kicks on, known as auxiliary heat. If the heat pump does not come back on after its defrost cycle, you will continue to use “emergency heat” or “auxiliary heat.” If your heat pump isn’t working, emergency heat may get you through the night comfortably, but you’ll want to call a professional technician to fix the root cause ASAP. If you ignore the problem and continue to use emergency heat, be prepare to pay sky-high electrical bills.
Suggested Snow & Ice Maintenance
A little snow and ice is normal. A completely frozen unit, however, is not. If your outdoor heat pump unit remains frosty or frozen for more than 3 hours, you should have it checked out by a professional to avoid any further damage. Here are some things you can do to prevent heat pump snow and ice buildup:
- Clear away debris from the unit (maintain a 2-foot clearance around entire unit). Turn the unit off (or “emergency heat”) when you are cleaning around it and be careful not to do any damage. Never use any sharp objects to remove snow and ice.
- Create a cover, canopy, or freestanding shelter for your unit (this will also improve efficiency in summer by providing shade).
- You might be tempted to put a covering directly on top of the unit, but don’t do this! Never stack anything on top of your heat pump and remember the 2-foot clearance applies to the top of the unit as well.
- Look above the unit and make sure there are no weak tree limbs that could fall and damage your unit.
- Cover and insulate all pipes that are prone to bursting in freezing temperatures (learn how to prevent and thaw frozen pipes here).
- Visually check your condenser, make sure it is clear of snow and undamaged (if the condensing fan motor does not have the proper airflow, there is a problem).
- Ongoing work includes clearing snow and ice away from your unit.
- To melt ice, use a hose or warm water. Don’t use boiling water and don’t melt ice when the outside temperature is below freezing.
- Replace your air filter if needed. This helps ensure your HVAC system has proper airflow.
- Contact your local HVAC professionals at Hiller to clean your unit perform a winter performance checkup.
How to Protect your Rooftop HVAC Unit
Are you a business owner looking to protect your rooftop HVAC unit this winter? Here are two solutions you can take immediately to protect your investment and the comfort of your business all season long.
A good drainage system —
Ensure that you have a proper drainage system in place. When ice and snow melts, the water needs to flow away from the unit. Meaning, nothing should be dripping into the unit itself. Make sure your gutter and drainage system is cleaned and inspected at least twice a year.
Routine check-ups from HVAC professionals are always a solid solution to performance woes. An HVAC specialist can replace any old parts, change the air filter if necessary and offer the preparation needed for your HVAC system to make it through the winter — even when it’s freezing outside!
Hiller offers both residential and commercial HVAC services. Reach out to our knowledgeable and helpful team of experts for more information on how to avoid damage from snow and ice. Schedule a preventative maintenance or tune-up appointment 24/7.