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Why Is My Heat Pump Icing Up in the Summer?

In the last few years, heat pumps have become one of the most popular methods for both heating and cooling. There’s a good reason for this: few other heating options are quite as energy-efficient, and the fact that they can also act as an air conditioner means they’re more versatile than other units. Like any other HVAC system, though, a heat pump requires regular care and maintenance to ensure it continues to work properly.

One common problem that homeowners notice with heat pumps is that they tend to ice over, even during the heat of summer. What is the cause of this unusual malfunction? How can it be fixed? And how can you ensure that it doesn’t happen again?

How a Heat Pump Works

A heat pump is a two-part, ductless system that utilizes refrigerant coolant to both heat and cool a room, depending on the need. Outside of the home, a condenser unit either absorbs ambient heat from the environment (for heating) or releases it from inside the home (for cooling). Inside of the home, a fan, or other heat distribution system, circulates the air throughout the room.

The condenser makes use of refrigeration coils, which contain coolant and function in much the same way as a refrigerator does. Air is drawn into the condenser unit, where it passes over the coils. As it does so, the coolant absorbs heat energy from the air, cooling it down. This cooler air can now be distributed into the house, effectively operating as an air conditioner but with a significantly reduced energy cost. This system can also work in reverse, drawing in ambient heat energy and releasing it to warm a room.

What Are the Benefits of a Heat Pump?

Heat pumps are significantly more energy-efficient than nearly any other system. Most heating systems have to utilize a lot of costly fuel to generate heat energy. However, a heat pump utilizes ambient energy from the environment, bypassing this issue. It only requires a relatively small amount of electricity to operate the condenser and fan. The versatility of a heat pump is also a major advantage, as you won’t require separate heating and cooling systems.

Another benefit of heat pumps is that they can essentially be installed anywhere. It doesn’t matter if a building doesn’t have ductwork or other infrastructure. As long as there is room for the condenser and fan to be placed, the system will work effectively. You can also utilize a heat pump to heat and cool a single room. Whereas most traditional heaters and air conditioners waste a great deal of energy on rooms that are not occupied, a heat pump can be set to only focus on the rooms where people are.

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What It Means When a Heat Pump Is Icing Up

The liquid refrigerant in your heat pump is normally extremely cold. As it absorbs heat energy from the air in your home, the air cools down significantly. This also causes water vapor in the air to condense around the heat pump. If it becomes too cold, the heat pump may begin to freeze over.

Normally, your heat pump may get cold, but it won’t begin to freeze unless there’s a problem. Under normal circumstances, the warm air that is constantly blowing over the coils will prevent ice from forming. If you notice the heat pump icing up, this could have several causes. A layer of dirt and grime covering the coil could block the warm air that is flowing over the coil. If the blower itself is malfunctioning, this may also cause air to back up, causing the heat pump to ice up.

The most common cause of a heat pump icing up, however, is a leaky coil. If coolant is leaking out of the refrigeration coils, it will cause the pressure in the coils to drop. When it does, they will become significantly colder than normal. This can lead to the heat pump icing up, even during the hot summer months. Leaking coolant can cause further damage to the heat pump, as well as pose an environmental risk. For these reasons, it should be immediately addressed by a professional if you notice it.

What Should I Do If I See Ice on My Heat Pump?

If you notice that a layer of ice or frost has developed on your heat pump, your first step should be to shut it off immediately. Do not run the system until it has been repaired properly. If the ice continues to build, it can eventually damage the compressor, leading to extremely expensive repairs. If you leave the heat pump off for a while, eventually it will defrost on its own. You may be able to expedite this process by running the fan for a while. Defrosting the heat pump and then turning it back on may solve the problem; however, if it doesn’t, you may need to get an experienced technician in to perform a repair.

Preventing a heat pump from developing problems such as leaking requires proper installation and occasional maintenance. Make sure you have a highly trained technician from a company like Entek on call to perform any repair work that may be required. They will be able to repair leaks and recharge any coolant that has leaked out. It’s critical that you have a licensed technician do this because unlicensed contractors aren’t legally allowed to purchase or handle coolant in the United States.

Your licensed and certified technician will also be able to safely perform routine maintenance on your heat pump. This means checking any electrical connections, cleaning out the fans as necessary, and ensuring that the thermostat is in good working order. With regular maintenance and care, your heat pump can save you thousands of dollars on your energy bills over the years.


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