The Effects of Snow and Ice on Your Heat Pump

The heat pump defrost function works against ice and snow to keep your home warm and habitable during the winter season. The defrost function reverses heat flow, enabling the heat pump to warm its interior to melt existing ice. 

However, freezing temperatures, extreme ice, and snow levels can take a toll on the efficiency of your heat pump. Besides, the defrost function is not energy-efficient and can double or even triple your monthly energy bills. Here are some questions you should ask if you are considering getting a heat pump:

Is the Heat Pump Affected by Ice and Snow?

Unless the heat pump condenser unit is elevated or covered, snow will likely pile up and interfere with the system’s proper operation. Though most heat pumps have defrosting mechanisms, they are often insufficient to prevent snow buildup. When snow covers the condenser, airflow and energy consumption issues will follow. Blocked exhaust vents can’t remove unclean air, like carbon monoxide, from the interiors, which could be life-threatening. 

Call a professional heat repair technician when your system starts to exhibit inefficient behavior.

What Happens When the Heat Pump Gets Too Cold?

Excessive snow and ice buildup inhibit the ability of the heat pump to extract heat from the air. That will mean the heat pump won’t generate and circulate enough hot air indoors. The thermostat will switch on the emergency heat function to a manageable indoor heat level. The emergency heat gets heat from induction wires, which consume massive amounts of energy.

Can Ice and Snow Buildup Hurt the Performance of the Furnace?

Unlike rain, snow and ice do not evaporate immediately. Snow accumulation on your HVAC equipment affects its performance and airflow. The condensers and coil fins can get damaged when this happens, especially when moisture gets between and freezes. Falling icicles can also harm your outdoor unit if they’re not cleared out properly. They can clog your furnace’s exhaust pipes and compromise its heating capability, as well. 

The heat pump won’t have the power to defrost fast and correctly, ultimately damaging it. During such unfortunate instances, heating repair technicians come in handy to clean up the blocked vents and repair any damaged furnace components.

Is it Advisable to Turn Off the Heat Pump During Snow Storms?

 Frost and ice shreds may also collect around the heat pump. However, if extreme amounts of ice and snow buildup over the unit, it’s strongly recommended to switch it off or to ‘emergency heat’ to remove the snow. The easiest way to get the snow off the heat pump is by pouring warm water over time. Don’t ever do this when the heat pump is on, as it could spell doom to the unit’s electrical parts. Likewise, you should never use sharp objects to clean off the ice collected around the refrigerant coils.

Some snow and ice are normal; a completely frozen unit is not. If your outdoor heat pump unit remains frozen for more than 3 hours, you should have it checked out by a professional to avoid further damage. 

What Causes Freezing Up of a Heat Pump?

Heat pumps may freeze up during winter, mainly if rarely used. A heat pumps refrigerant temperature has to remain at the recommended level for the unit to operate efficiently. If the temperature levels become extremely low during winter, and the heat pump isn’t powered on for several days, the refrigerant’s temperature may decrease to zero or lower.

If the vents are blocked, and the heat pump doesn’t get enough air, moisture could freeze over the evaporator coil. Likewise, chilly rain could freeze the heat pump when it falls on the outdoor pump unit. Clean all air pathways directing air from and to the heat pump to prevent the possibility of it freezing. Get a professional heat repair technician to clean the evaporator coils if they get dirty.

Can You Prep the Heat Pump for Winter to Prevent Freezing and Efficiency Issues?

A professional tune-up ensures every component is prepared to handle daily performance challenges. Professionals do all the necessary system tests, calibrations, and checks to ensure the unit operates at the highest efficiency level. That means the air pathways will be clean, and the evaporator coils will be working at maximum efficiency. Therefore, there are minimal chances that the cold air around the furnace will freeze over the evaporator coils.

Here are some things you can do to prevent heat pump snow and ice buildup:

  • Clear away debris from the unit 
  • Turn the unit off or to “emergency heat” when cleaning around it – Never use any sharp objects to remove snow and ice.
  • Create a cover, canopy, or freestanding shelter for your unit (also improving efficiency in summer by providing shade)
  • Never stack anything on top, and remember the 2-foot clearance applies to the top of the unit as well.
  • Look above the unit to 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
  • Visually check your condenser, make sure it is clear of snow and undamaged
  • 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 monthly 

How to Optimize the Efficiency of a Heat Pump During Winter?

The heat pump will suffer significantly if proper care and maintenance tips are not observed during the winter. For instance, the system may freeze or fail if snow buildup around the evaporator coils and other parts are not shoveled away.

Here are a few simple ways to optimize the performance of your heat pump during the winter:

  • Stop cranking up the temperature.
  • Equip your system with a smart home thermostat explicitly designed for use with a heat pump system
  • Don’t rely on emergency heat: this mode is notoriously inefficient and will quickly drive up your energy bills.
  • Keep your filter clean
  • Keep leaves and debris clear of your outdoor unit
  • Do NOT cover your system
  • Don’t worry about defrost mode: defrosting frozen system components is part of regular winter operation. Be aware, though, this cycle is typically short, and if your system stays in this mode for a long time, it may require heating repair services.
  • Follow a regular maintenance schedule.

Is it Wrong to Cover the Outdoor Heat Pump Unit in Winter?

Heat pumps are manufactured with the harsh winter weather in mind, so they have the strength to stand up to extreme cold, snow, and ice. As the winter weather becomes too hostile, you may want to cover the heat pumps to prevent moisture and snow buildup. 

However, it’s essential to realize that covering the heat pump could cause moisture to be trapped in the unit. Covering the heat pump could likewise cause freezing of the evaporator coils. Significantly affecting the performance of the evaporator coils.

When Should You Call an HVAC system Repair Technician?

Observing all precautions to keep the heat pump performance efficient and safe during winter weather does not guarantee everything will be okay. In some instances, the snow and freezing rain may become too unbearable for the heat pump to withstand. The unit may develop electrical or mechanical issues in the process, which could be impossible for a DIYer to handle. 

Call a qualified HVAC system technician, like Patriot Air, for insufficient heat issues or refrigerant leaks. Regardless of how big or troublesome the problem may look, a qualified and experienced air conditioner and heating repair specialist will have a lasting solution.