Common Heat Pump Problems

fall-leavesThere are many ways to heat a home. Because of our mild winters here in Austin, we have a lot of options available to us of types of heaters and heating solutions that can be effective and efficient compared to those in harsher climates. One of those solutions that many find appealing is a heat pump. Heat pumps are convenient and effective for many reasons, one the main ones being that they operate as both the heating and cooling system for a household. This simplifies the system and means there’s less that could break down and less that needs to be tuned up. Heat pumps aren’t able to heat homes that experience very cold weather on a regular basis, meaning they’re really only a viable home heating solution for those of us in the south.

But there is a drawback to having one system providing both your heating in the winter and cooling in the summer and that’s that when problems arise, you’re down your whole HVAC system. And problems can arise with heat pumps. They’re no more immune to needing repairs and tune-ups than any other type of heater whether it be furnaces or boilers. In this tip, we’ll look at some of the most common issues that heat pumps can succumb to, what causes these problems, and what needs to be done to fix them.

Heat Pump Icing

Ice can present a problem for your heat pump’s normal operation. But there are different levels and types of icing, some of which is normal, some of which is caused by the weather, and some of which is an indication of a problem within the heat pump itself. During the cold winter months, your heat pump’s the outside unit will sometimes be covered with a coating of frost on the sides or even light ice. This is perfectly normal. Even in Austin we occasionally will get frosty days in the dead of winter. Every so often, the unit will go into defrost mode to remove that frost.

But, if the top of the unit has a heavy coat of ice, the coils are encased in ice, or the entire unit is covered with a thick sheet of snow and ice, this indicates a problem. All that ice prevents the transfer of heat between the refrigerant and the outside air and impedes the operation of the heat pump. This isn’t likely with the weather we get here, but if it does happen and you don’t take care of it soon, you could damage the unit beyond repair. Ice in the coils can damage the sensitive fins, the fan blades, and eventually lead to compressor failure.

If it isn’t cold enough outside for this ice to be occurring naturally, or you see ice on the outdoor unit coils during the summer, then that means there is a problem occurring inside the heat pump. If you have ice accumulating on your indoor unit, there is a problem with the system, such a refrigerant leak, clogged filter, or very dirty coils that are keeping heat from transferring as it should.

The defrost mode of the heat pump works by it turning to its air conditioning mode briefly to heat up the coils and melt any ice that accumulates. Defrost issues can be caused by faulty relays, controls, or sensors. There could also be a problem with the reverse valve that switches the unit from heat to air conditioning mode.

Any of these problems can be diagnosed and repaired by an experienced Austin heater repair technician. If you notice excessive ice on your heat pump’s outdoor unit, ice that doesn’t get defrosted, or ice on the coils of the condenser, especially when it isn’t cold enough outside for ice to occur naturally, call an HVAC repair company to get the problem swiftly taken care of.

Stuck in Cooling Mode

The defining feature of a heat pump that separates it from the machines it can replace, the air conditioner and the furnace is that it can switch from cooling your home to heating it. The heat pump cools and heats using the same method, transferring heat in the air with the movement and cooling and heating of refrigerant. When the weather outside changes from hot summer days to cool fall ones, the heat pump is supposed to switch the flow of refrigerant and change from being a source of cool air to a source of heat.

But what if this doesn’t happen? This is a problem that can occur that is unique to heat pumps, a failure to switch from cooling to heating mode. If the days start to get cooler and you finally decide to switch your thermostat from cool mode to heat mode and you don’t feel the heat, you might have this issue with your heat pump. A heat pump won’t do you much good if it only works half the year, so this can be a stressful issue to have. Luckily, there is a likely culprit.

The reversing valve is a part of the heat pump that sits in the refrigerant line between the inside and outside units. It’s responsible for the reversing power of the heat pump. It’s a 4-way valve, inside which is a slide that moves back and forth between two positions. Depending on the position the slide is in, the refrigerant will either flow one way for cooling mode or the other way for heating mode. The slide is controlled by an electromagnet called the solenoid. The solenoid pushes or pulls the slide back and forth in the valve in response to the system’s thermostat. If your heat pump is refusing to switch from one mode to the other, it’s because one of these parts in the reversing valve is malfunctioning.

The reversing valve can malfunction because of the failure of either of these components, the solenoid or the slide. If the slide is stuck, it will need to be reset. This is a fairly easy procedure that shouldn’t take much time at all. If the solenoid is the issue then it will need to be replaced. There’s no easy reset procedure for a magnet. If the electromagnet has lost its charge then there’s not much to be done besides replacement. Either of these procedures can be easily taken care of by a trained professional. If you find your heat pump isn’t doing its job of heating your house even though just days ago it was cooling it just fine, you might have an issue with the reverse valve. This can be solved with the help of an Austin heater repair technician.

Refrigerant Leaks

Like an air conditioner, heat pumps work on the principle of refrigerant absorbing heat from one area and depositing that heat in another. The main difference between the two is of course that the heat pump will change whether it is absorbing heat from the outside or the inside depending on whether you’re trying to warm or cool your home.

But because both run on refrigerants, refrigerant leaks can be an issue. Your heat pump is going to be constantly moving refrigerant around its system. There’s a closed loop of refrigerant moving through the system that cools the air inside your home in the summer and warms it in the winter. When a leak develops in the refrigerant line, you may not know it immediately. As the refrigerant levels go down, the system will have to work harder just to keep your home cool. This quickly increases energy use. So, the main symptom that you’ll notice when your refrigerant leaks are that the heat pump won’t work as effectively. It might cycle on and off more frequently, or stay on longer because it isn’t moving as much warmth. Either way, your energy bills will rise and your house won’t be as comfortable as often.

When you suspect a refrigerant leak or any kind of problem with your heat pump, you need to have professional repair technicians look over the system and identify the leak, then seal it. Recharging the refrigerant to its normal level is an important step, since using the wrong refrigerant blend or either undercharging or overcharging the amount in the heat pump will make the problem worse. Make sure you call on experienced technicians for this task.

Airflow Restriction

If the refrigerant is the fuel of your heat pump then the ducts are the method of transport. The ductwork in your home is an essential part of your heating system because it is the vehicle through which warmed air is delivered to the home. Without ducts, the heat pump would be creating warm air for no reason. But, because so much air travels through these ducts so often, sometimes problems can arise within. There are several issues that can cause a restriction of airflow within your heat pump system.

A heat pump has two primary components. The first is the inside air handler and the second is the outdoor pump. Both need airflow to work properly. Clogged air filters or air vents can reduce the efficiency of the indoor unit. Sometimes weeds and debris can get into the outdoor unit and reduce the efficiency of the outdoor unit. The best way to prevent this is to make sure there is plenty of empty space all around the outdoor unit that is free of any kind of debris by at least two feet.

A dirty air filter is another extremely common cause of restricted airflow. Air filters need to be replaced regularly, as they will with time gather more and more dust and dirt just by doing their job. An air filter is like a strainer for the air and what sticks to it will eventually clog it. This will make it harder for air to move through and cause restricted airflow. This is an easy fix though, just purchase a replacement air filter and the problem can be solved in no time flat.

Heat Pump Issues and Heating Repair in Austin

Now we’ve looked at some of the more common problems that can plague your heat pump unit. Any of these problems can cause a lot of stress if the symptoms go on long enough but any one of these problems can also be solved with the help of a trusted and experienced heater repair company like AC Express. Austin heater repair with AC Express is a breeze.

If you ever find yourself with a heat pump with any of these problems, issues we haven’t discussed, or in fact any air conditioning or heating issue in Austin, call AC Express. Austin heating experts at AC Express would love to help you get your heater back to its fully functioning self. Call today!