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Using heat pumps in the winter

Posted on: October 12, 2011

Did everyone enjoy that little cold front a few days ago? Thankfully the warmer days are back, but let’s face it: they won’t be here forever. Pretty soon it’s going to be heavy coats, hats, gloves, and, of course, heaters!

These days, more and more people are looking for ways to save money. One easy way to do this is by installing a heat pump! Heat pumps act as normal air conditioners in the summer, but heat pumps in the winter have huge efficiency benefits compared to normal furnaces!

What’s so great about heat pumps in winter?

One thing people usually wonder about heat pumps in the winter is how much they’ll actually save compared to a furnace. While it’s hard to pin down an exact dollar amount (it varies depending on your local electricity rates, how much heating you use, etc), it’s been shown that heat pumps generally output two times more heat than energy they take in. For reference, the most efficient furnaces on the market convert 95% of the fuel they use into heat.

Heat pumps also have the advantage of being extremely durable. After all, they have to run about 8 months a year, every year – twice as much as a furnace or air conditioner. The most important factor in how well your heat pump will run in the winter (or all year, really) is how well it is installed. At James A. Wheat & Sons, our HVAC techs are heat pump installation experts have years of experience installing heat pumps so that they don’t give home owners any problems.

How cold can heat pumps in winter work?

If you installed a heat pump last spring to act as an air conditioner, you may now be wondering: will this thing work in the winter? You already know that heat pumps can pull heat out of the air even when it feels cold outside – in fact, heat pumps can find heat in air as cold as 32 F or colder! While this doesn’t always work in places like Montana where the winters can get down to -70 F, it’s perfect for the winters in Maryland and Washington, DC.

Troubleshooting Heat Pumps in Winter

Your heat pump is designed to work even when temperatures drop below freezing. And for those extra cold days, each heat pump system has a built-in heater to provide more heat! That said, today’s heat pumps rely on the back up heater less than ever before.  Occassionally, though rarely, you may run into the following problems:

My heat pump is all iced up!

When air conditioner coils or compressors freeze up during the summer, it’s a cause for alarm. It’s not the same for heat pumps in the winter. In fact, heat pumps in the winter are designed to freeze a little bit – they have defrost timers built in to periodically melt the ice that forms on them, which helps maintain their efficiency.

That said, it’s not normal for heat pumps to freeze solid and stay frozen – obviously if the coils are frozen it will prevent the transfer of heat in and out of your house! There are many reasons a heat pump in the winter might freeze:

Things you can fix:

  • The outdoor coil may be blocked by leaves or snow
  • The condenser drain is blocked so there’s nowhere for ice to melt and drain out
  • A leaky gutter is dripping water onto the top of the heat pump
  • Freezing rain is causing the top of the heat pump to freeze
  • The filter is clogged

Times to call James A. Wheat & Sons:

  • You can see ice on the system for more than an hour
  • You see bands of frost that never disappear
  • The emergency heat light on your thermostat never goes off
  • You have extremely high electric bills

My heat pump is blowing cold air

If your heat pump is blowing air, it is probably not getting any power to the pump. Make sure your heat pump’s circuit breakers have not been tripped (there should be two breakers). If you reset the breaker and it trips again, you may have an electrical problem that you should call James A. Wheat & Sons to take a look at.

Whatever your heat pump problem is, call James A. Wheat & Sons! We can come out and inspect your unit so make sure your Gaithersburg heat pump runs efficiently in the winter and all year long!