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Troubleshooting Heat Pump Issues: Common Problems and Solutions

Title: Maintaining Your Heat Pump: Common Problems and SolutionsWhen it comes to keeping our homes comfortable all year round, a properly functioning heat pump plays a vital role. However, like any mechanical system, heat pumps can face a range of issues that may hinder their performance.

In this article, we will discuss two common problems that homeowners encounter with their heat pumps: low refrigerant charge and refrigerant leaks, as well as dirty outside coils or cabinets. We will delve into the causes, consequences, and solutions for each problem, ensuring that you have the necessary knowledge to maintain your heat pump efficiently.

Low Refrigerant Charge and Refrigerant Leak

New Units Not Properly Charged

If you recently had a new heat pump installed and notice it isn’t keeping your home as comfortable as expected, the culprit may be an incorrect refrigerant charge. Unfortunately, some heat pump mechanics fail to properly charge the refrigerant during installation, leading to reduced efficiency and performance.

– A refrigerant leak may also occur due to a poor installation job, and this can lead to a low refrigerant charge. The leak should be fixed promptly by a professional refrigerant leak repair technician to ensure optimal heat pump function and efficiency.

– Signs of a refrigerant leak include reduced cooling or heating capacity, hissing or bubbling sounds near the heat pump, or a build-up of ice on the evaporator coil. – To prevent future low refrigerant charge issues, make sure to engage a reputable heat pump mechanic who understands the importance of proper refrigerant charging.

Old Units with Refrigerant Leaks

While new units can suffer from improper charging, older units may be prone to refrigerant leaks over time. These leaks can be caused by corrosion, worn-out valves, or even accidental punctures during maintenance procedures.

– If you suspect a refrigerant leak in your older heat pump, it is crucial to contact a professional repair technician immediately. They will identify and fix the leak, ensuring that your heat pump operates optimally.

– Keep in mind that ignoring a refrigerant leak can result in irreparable damage to your heat pump, and it can also lead to increased energy consumption and higher utility bills.

Dirty Outside Coil or Cabinet

Common Reasons for Dirty Coils

Dirt and debris accumulation on the outside coil or in the cabinet is another problem that can hinder your heat pump’s performance. Various factors contribute to this issue, often beyond your control:

– One common cause is grass clippings that accumulate around the outside unit during lawn maintenance.

These clippings can restrict airflow and prevent the heat pump from effectively transferring heat. – Another culprit is blown dust and debris carried by wind, especially in areas with high levels of airborne particles such as construction sites or farms.

Cleaning the Coil and Cabinet

Cleaning the outside coil and cabinet is a simple maintenance task that can significantly enhance your heat pump’s efficiency and lifespan. Here’s a step-by-step guide:


Gather the necessary materials: a soft brush, a cleaning solution suitable for heat pump coils, and a garden hose. 2.

Turn off the heat pump for safety. 3.

Start by removing any visible debris, such as grass clippings, using the brush. 4.

Dilute the cleaning solution according to the package instructions and apply it to the coil, taking care to avoid electrical components. 5.

Allow the cleaning solution to sit for a few minutes, allowing it to break down dirt and grime. 6.

Gently scrub the coil with the brush to remove any stubborn dirt, being cautious not to deform the aluminum fins. 7.

Rinse the coil thoroughly with a hose, making sure to remove all traces of the cleaning solution. 8.

Wipe down the cabinet and remove any accumulated dirt or dust. 9.

Finally, allow the heat pump to dry completely before turning it back on.


By now, you are well-informed about two common problems that can hinder the performance of your heat pump: low refrigerant charge and refrigerant leaks, as well as dirty outside coils or cabinets. Identifying the symptoms associated with these issues and taking prompt action by contacting a professional when necessary can help you maintain an efficient and reliable heat pump system.

Additionally, regular cleaning and maintenance of your heat pump’s outside coils and cabinets will ensure optimal performance. By following the outlined solutions and preventive measures, you can enjoy year-round comfort in your home, while also saving on energy costs.

Dirty Air Filter

Impaired Airflow due to Dirty Filter

One of the most common problems that homeowners face with their heat pumps is a dirty air filter. The air filter plays a crucial role in maintaining good airflow and ensuring the heat pump operates efficiently.

However, over time, the filter can become clogged with dust, dirt, pollen, and other airborne particles, hindering the flow of air. – An impaired airflow caused by a dirty filter can result in reduced heating and cooling efficiency, longer running times, and even system malfunctions.

– Additionally, a dirty filter means that the heat pump has to work harder to draw in air, leading to increased energy consumption and higher utility bills. – It’s recommended to check the air filter monthly and replace it every three months, or more frequently if you have pets or allergies.

Changing and Cleaning the Filter

Maintaining a clean air filter is relatively simple and can significantly improve the performance of your heat pump. Here is a step-by-step guide to changing and cleaning your heat pump’s air filter:


Locate the air filter compartment. This is typically located at the return air side of the heat pump, in the blower compartment, or in the air handler.

Consult your heat pump’s manual for specific instructions. 2.

Turn off the heat pump for safety. 3.

Access the filter by removing the cover or sliding out the filter drawer. 4.

Inspect the filter for dirt and debris. If it looks excessively dirty or clogged, it is time for a replacement.

5. To remove the filter, gently slide it out of the compartment, paying attention to how it is positioned.

6. If the filter is washable, you can clean it by gently brushing off the debris with a soft brush or using a vacuum cleaner on a low setting.

7. For disposable filters, simply discard the old filter and replace it with a new one of the same size and type.

8. Ensure that the filter is properly aligned and secure in the compartment.

9. Turn the heat pump back on.

Maintaining a clean air filter not only promotes better airflow but also improves indoor air quality by filtering out allergens and pollutants. Buildup of Ice and/or Snow

Snow and Ice as Potential Issue

During the winter months, snow and ice can present challenges for heat pump owners. When the outdoor coil or the heat pump’s exterior becomes covered in snow or ice, the heat pump’s performance can be significantly affected.

– Snow and ice act as insulators, preventing the heat pump from effectively transferring heat and causing it to work harder to achieve the desired temperature. – This increased workload can lead to higher energy consumption, reduced efficiency, and potential damage to the heat pump if not addressed promptly.

Clearing Snow, Ice, and Thawing Icy Coil

Clearing snow and ice from your heat pump requires some caution and the right tools. Here are steps to safely remove snow, ice, and thaw an icy coil:


Turn off the heat pump to avoid any accidental damage during the process. 2.

Use a shovel or snowblower to carefully remove any accumulated snow around the unit. Avoid forcefully hitting the heat pump to prevent damage to the fins or other delicate components.

3. For ice buildup on the unit, you can gently chip away the ice using a plastic or rubber mallet.

Avoid using a metal tool or sharp objects as they can damage the coils or scratch the surface. 4.

To thaw an icy coil, turn on the heat pump’s defrost mode if it has one. This mode initiates a cycle that temporarily reverses the refrigerant flow, heating up the outdoor coil to melt ice.

The duration of the defrost cycle depends on the heat pump model and outdoor conditions. 5.

Never chip away ice directly on the coil; instead, allow the defrost cycle to thaw the icy coil naturally. 6.

Once the snow and ice have been cleared, carefully inspect the unit for any damage. If you notice any bent or damaged fins, contact a professional technician for repair or advice.

Remember, when dealing with snow and ice removal, safety is paramount. Ensure you have proper clothing, gloves, and footwear to protect yourself from cold weather conditions.

By proactively addressing the buildup of ice and snow and maintaining good airflow through a clean air filter, you can keep your heat pump running smoothly throughout the winter months. Regularly monitoring and performing necessary maintenance tasks will not only extend the lifespan of your heat pump but also contribute to energy efficiency while ensuring a comfortable and cozy home environment.

Bad Reversing Valve

Reversing Valve Function and Importance

The reversing valve is a vital component of a heat pump system. It controls the direction of refrigerant flow, allowing the heat pump to switch between heating and cooling modes.

The reversing valve diverts the refrigerant between the indoor and outdoor coils, depending on the desired temperature. – During the heating mode, the reversing valve directs the refrigerant from the outdoor coil and compressor to the indoor coil, providing warmth to the indoor space.

– In cooling mode, the valve reverses the flow, directing the refrigerant from the indoor coil to the outdoor coil, thus providing cooling. – A malfunctioning reversing valve can cause the heat pump to become stuck in one mode, rendering it unable to switch between heating and cooling.

– One common sign of a bad reversing valve is the heat pump blowing cold air during the heating mode or hot air during the cooling mode.

Replacing a Faulty Reversing Valve

If you suspect a faulty reversing valve in your heat pump, it is essential to consult a professional repair technician for assistance. Replacing a reversing valve is a complex task that requires specialized knowledge and tools.

Here are some points to consider when dealing with a faulty reversing valve:

– Professional repair: Due to the complexity of the task, it is strongly recommended to hire a professional technician who is experienced in heat pump repairs. They will have the expertise to diagnose the issue accurately and replace the faulty reversing valve if necessary.

– Cost considerations: Replacing a reversing valve can be a costly repair, as it involves both labor and parts. However, it is more cost-effective than purchasing a new heat pump.

Consult with multiple technicians to get estimates and compare prices. – Temporary solutions: In some cases, a skilled technician may be able to temporarily fix a stuck reversing valve by manually shifting it to the desired position.

While this may provide a short-term solution, it is best to treat it as a temporary fix and plan for a proper replacement in the near future. Auxiliary Heat Isn’t Working in Extreme Cold

Heating Coils as Auxiliary Heat Source

In extremely cold weather conditions, heat pumps may struggle to extract enough heat from the outdoor air to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature. In such situations, heat pumps often rely on auxiliary heat to supplement their performance.

This auxiliary heat is typically provided by heating coils or heat strips installed within the air handling unit. – The heating coils, also known as heat strips, consist of electrical heating elements that generate warmth when activated.

– During extreme cold, the heat pump may automatically activate the auxiliary heat to ensure sufficient warmth indoors. – It is important to understand that auxiliary heat consumes more energy compared to the heat pump alone, and its use may result in higher heating costs.

– Faulty or malfunctioning heating coils can cause the auxiliary heat to stop working, leaving your heat pump less effective during periods of extreme cold.

Repairing or Replacing Faulty Heating Coils

If you experience issues with your auxiliary heat not working during extremely cold weather, it may indicate a problem with the heating coils. In such cases, it is advisable to consult a professional technician who can diagnose and address the issue.

Consider the following factors when dealing with faulty heating coils:

– Repair options: Depending on the extent of the damage, a technician may be able to repair the faulty heating coils. This could involve replacing individual elements within the heating strip or addressing electrical issues that may be causing the malfunction.

– Replacement considerations: If the heating coils are severely damaged or beyond repair, a replacement might be necessary. Discuss with a professional technician, as they can recommend suitable replacement options based on your heat pump’s specifications.

– Cost considerations: Like any repair or replacement, the cost of fixing faulty heating coils will depend on various factors, including the extent of the damage and the type of heat pump you own. Request quotes from different technicians to gauge the expense.

Remember, if you rely on auxiliary heat during extreme cold weather, it is crucial to schedule regular maintenance for your heating coils to ensure their optimal functionality. This can help prevent unexpected issues when you need auxiliary heat the most.

By understanding the importance of a properly functioning reversing valve and the role of auxiliary heat in extreme cold weather, homeowners can stay informed and take appropriate action. Whether it’s getting professional assistance for replacing a bad reversing valve or promptly addressing faulty heating coils, ensuring the efficient operation of your heat pump will lead to prolonged comfort and energy savings.

Tripped Circuit Breaker…or Worse

Lack of Power and Potential Causes

A sudden loss of power to your heat pump, accompanied by a tripped circuit breaker, can leave you feeling frustrated and in need of a solution. Understanding the potential causes of this issue will help you troubleshoot and address the problem effectively.

– One common cause of a tripped circuit breaker is an overloaded circuit. This occurs when the electrical demand from the heat pump and other appliances connected to the same breaker exceeds the capacity of the circuit.

– Another potential cause is a short circuit, which occurs when a hot wire comes into contact with a neutral wire or a ground wire. This can result in a surge of electrical current, causing the circuit breaker to trip.

– Additionally, a faulty air handler or wiring within the system can also lead to a tripped circuit breaker.

Troubleshooting and Electrical Repairs

If you experience a tripped circuit breaker or a lack of power to your heat pump, here are steps to troubleshoot the issue:

1. Reset the breaker: Locate the circuit breaker panel and check if any breakers are in the tripped position.

If you find a tripped breaker, switch it to the off position before resetting it by firmly pushing it to the on position. 2.

Determine the cause: If the breaker trips again immediately or after a short period, it indicates an underlying electrical problem. In this case, it is crucial to contact a professional technician who can perform electrical testing to diagnose and address the issue.

3. Inspect the air handler: Check the air handler for any signs of damage or loose wiring.

If you spot any issues, it is best to consult a professional for repairs. 4.

Control board replacement: In some cases, a faulty control board within the air handler can cause the breaker to trip. A professional technician can determine if a control board replacement is necessary.

When dealing with electrical repairs, it is essential to prioritize safety and consult a licensed electrician or professional heat pump technician to ensure the issue is resolved correctly.

Consideration for Heat Pump Replacement

Factors Influencing Replacement Decision

As heat pumps age, there may come a time when replacement becomes a more practical option than continuing with major repairs. Several factors influence the decision to replace a heat pump:

– Age of the unit: Heat pumps typically have a lifespan of 15-20 years.

If your unit is approaching or surpassing this range, it may be more cost-effective to consider a replacement, as older units are often less energy-efficient. – Major repairs: If your heat pump requires significant repairs, such as a compressor replacement or refrigerant leak repair, the cost may be substantial.

In such cases, investing in a new heat pump with a warranty can provide peace of mind and potential energy savings. – Warranty: If your current heat pump is still under warranty, it is important to review the terms and conditions.

Some warranties provide coverage for specific components or offer extended warranties for added protection. Discussing Repair vs.

Replacement with Contractors

When considering whether to repair or replace your heat pump, it is beneficial to consult with reputable heat pump companies or contractors. They can provide valuable insights and guidance to help make an informed decision.

Consider the following steps:

1. Seek estimates: Contact several heat pump companies or contractors to obtain free estimates and evaluations of your current unit’s condition and potential repair costs.

2. Discuss options: Ask the contractors to outline both the repair and replacement options available to you.

They can explain the potential benefits, drawbacks, and long-term cost implications of each choice based on your specific needs and budget. 3.

Evaluate efficiency: Consider the energy efficiency of your current heat pump compared to available models. Newer heat pumps often come with advanced features that can significantly reduce your energy consumption and utility bills.

4. Select a trusted installer: Decide on a reputable heat pump installer who offers warranties on both the equipment and installation.

A professional installation is crucial to ensure optimal performance and longevity of your new heat pump. By carefully considering the factors influencing a replacement decision and seeking advice from professionals, you can confidently choose the best course of action for your heat pump, keeping your home comfortable and energy-efficient for years to come.

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