Is Your Heat Pump Covered In Frost?

Blizzard after blizzard has been dumping tons of snow on the East Coast and “Arctic blasts” have been bringing low temperatures – life has been miserable for those on the East Coast. You may be getting tired of the mountains of snow, but hang in there because spring is just around the corner.

But there might be several more weeks of bitter cold weather before spring is here so here at the Bovio blog we wanted to cover a subject some of you may have to deal with which is a frosted heat pump.

Frost on heat pumps can be a big problem, but not necessarily. Does the frost last 30 to 60 minutes? Or does it last more than two hours? If you see frost for an hour or less, you’re safe. This is considered normal, a natural occurrence in colder temperatures.

However, if it lasts two or more hours, you have a problem. Call a repair person right away. It can save you the cost of a major repair, or even the need to replace your heat pump.

When should I worry?

Coils covered in white frost are natural on heat pumps when the temperatures go down. Even light amounts of ice are not a problem. The pumps are made to automatically move into the defrost cycle as a way to de-ice the coils, keeping the device running properly.

You should be concerned if the entire appliance is covered in ice, especially the top of the unit and inside the coil, for longer than two hours. This means something is wrong with the mechanical components. The more it ices up and the longer it lasts, the worse the damage.

For example, if ice covers the unit for a long period, it can damage the fan blades and crush the outdoor coils. This will let the refrigerant leak out, which in turn ruins the compressor. In the end, it’s a complete loss.

What steps can I take?

There are five things you can do as a homeowner that will reduce the chance of icing up, leading to costly damage. During the winter do regular checks around the exterior heat pump and take these precautions:

  • Check the gutter. If it is dripping water on the heat pump, clean out the gutter and repair it.
  • Remove snow on top of and underneath the heat pump.
  • Clean off leaves anywhere around the equipment.
  • If it has sunk into the ground, elevate it by putting it up on blocks or special feet made just for this problem. Most people prefer a technician to do this work so they are sure it is level after raising it up. If you do it yourself, be sure to have it checked by a technician.

If ice has already built up on your heat pumps, turn it off and remove the ice. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is turning the garden hose on it. Of course, this is only effective if the temperature is above freezing. But after doing this, if it ices up again, you know you need to call a service technician.

What causes icing up?

There are four main causes of iced-up heat pumps. In each case, getting the problem fixed right away will prevent the need for costly repairs or even total replacement.

  1. Improper refrigerant charge, which usually indicates a leak.
  2. The reversing valve is sticking, so the heat pump is not able to reverse the flow of the refrigerant, which allows it to defrost itself.
  3. Faulty outdoor fan, which indicates that the condensing fan is not able to shut off during the regular defrost process. This is what allows the high-pressure refrigerant to circulate freely through the outdoor coil, which in turn melts the ice.
  4. Problems with the defrost control, which is often caused by a defective defrost timer, relay, thermostat or sensor. If any of these is not working properly, the ice is allowed to accumulate. The end result is a heat pump that looks like an igloo.

Don’t let an icing issue cause discomfort for you and your family and a big dent in your budget. A quick call to your local HVAC technician is the most cost-effective way to deal with the problem.

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