The Most Common Reasons for a Frozen Heat Pump

by Editor on November 4, 2013

The distribution manifold and other plumbing for the new boiler

Your heat pump is an integral component of your home’s HVAC system that works to heat or cool your interior air. This might sound a bit counterintuitive as the name sort of implies that this part of your machinery pumps heat. In truth, this is exactly what it does – it moves heat from one area to another, which is why it is also used in cooling. In the winter it may work to move heat into your living spaces, while during the summer it carries the hot air away in order to cool your space faster. So you can see that it is an essential part of regulating the temperature in your home. Unfortunately, many heating and air conditioning units are kept in areas of the house where the temperature can fluctuate dramatically, such as the attic, the basement, or even outdoors. And if temperatures drop low enough, your heat pump may freeze, despite measures within the system that work to prevent this occurrence. When you know what conditions can cause your heat pump to freeze, however, you can work to treat them or possibly even avoid them altogether. Here are a few of the most common culprits behind frozen heat pumps.

Cold water is one reason your heat pump might freeze, and it can occur in a couple of ways. For one thing, freezing rain or snow falling directly on your unit could be to blame, although you may also want to check and make sure that a leaking gutter or downspout isn’t the cause, especially if your unit should be protected by the overhang of your roof. Of course, if the temperature gets cold enough you could also suffer condensation buildup, which could then freeze on the surface and lock up the whole heat pump assembly. If such problems are an issue you can try to remedy them yourself by cleaning and inspecting the unit frequently throughout cold snaps or by building some kind of protective cover that keeps water and other weather from deluging your unit. But you might also have to call in a professional HVAC technician to see if something else can be done to correct the problem.

In truth, your system needn’t be inundated by freezing water in order for the heat pump to freeze up; cold air alone could do the trick. If the refrigerant in your heat pump falls below freezing for some reason (exterior temperatures or some kind of internal malfunction, for example), this could also cause your heat pump to freeze and stop working correctly. In this instance air flow is the best way to prevent problems from occurring, and optimum air flow can be maintained simply by checking your unit frequently to clear away any dirt, dust, and debris that may have built up. This could also require you to clean coils or replace filters.

A final issue could be that your unit has settled over time, or rather, the base that it rests on might settle. If this happens, the pathways for drainage may be compromised, in which case water and ice can more easily build up and choke off functionality, eventually freezing up the heat pump or other components of your HVAC system. So in addition to protecting your unit from the elements, keeping the coils clean, and guarding your AC condenser from harm, you might need to call out a pro to check and make sure that settling isn’t the problem that’s causing your heat pump to freeze. In most cases proper maintenance can keep your system functioning at peak capacity, but when problems arise it’s probably best to get a qualified HVAC technician to your house as soon as possible.

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