Is My Heat Pump Working? How to Troubleshoot Your Heat Pump Problems
More and more of our clients in the Valley are having us install heat pumps in their homes, and many of our new clients already have them. It’s still far from a majority, but it’s also pretty clear that this technology is here to stay. That’s great news because with our climate, a heat pump can be an excellent way to warm your home and save money in the process. But like all technology, heat pumps have limitations, and we frequently get calls from people who can’t tell if theirs is working. If you own a heat pump, you may know what we’re talking about. If you don’t, you’ll soon understand why that’s a lot less silly of a question than it sounds!
Why Does It Seem Like It’s Not Working?
When a furnace heats air and pushes it into your home through ducts, it uses gas or electricity to do so. It’s a big unit that makes noise—not a lot, but enough for you to notice—and generally puts on a show. Heat pumps, on the other hand, aren’t nearly as noisy. They function by moving warm air around, but they don’t heat it in the same way a furnace does. If you’re expecting lots of show, you’ll be in for a surprise.
You’ll also be surprised when you see your utility bill because heat pumps generally cost less to run than a furnace. One client in Woodland called us and said she wasn’t sure her new pump was working because the energy bill was so low that she suspected it wasn’t coming on at all! But there was nothing wrong with her pump, which we could tell as soon as we set foot in her nicely warmed home.
Heat pumps are not without their own limitations, however. One of those limitations is their effectiveness when the temperature gets lower than the thirties, especially if it freezes regularly during the colder months. That’s fortunately not something we deal with here in Sacramento very often, but our clients who live “up the hill” past Placerville tend to prefer traditional furnace heating because of the regularly freezing winter nights. But even if it’s too cold for your heat pump to heat your home effectively, your heat pump is still probably working—it just can’t heat your home enough compared to the outside temperature. This is why many of our clients with heat pumps keep their furnaces installed as a supplement, in case they decide they want to heat the home more than the pump is capable of doing.
Last but not least, if your heat pump seems broken, it could actually be broken!
What Does a Broken Heat Pump REALLY Look Like?
There are many signs of a broken heat pump, and they’re similar to the signs of a broken furnace. One sign is the unit not turning on at all, even when you manually attempt to activate it. Frequent cycling (turning off and on again too often) is another sign that something’s amiss with your pump. One of our first heat-pump-adopting clients just had a problem with frequent cycling, which they had ignored until it became “frequent squealing.” Heat pumps use an outdoor unit just like air conditioners do, and we’ve gotten calls from folks whose outdoor unit has frozen over. That can be a sign of trouble and is worth getting checked out. Because pumps use your ducts, fans, and other parts of the HVAC system just like a furnace would, any issues with the rest of the system can affect pump effectiveness. And last, as always, we’ve traced more than a few heat pump problems back to dirty air filters.
How Do I Deal with a Broken Heat Pump?
Call the installer. Heat pumps are pretty simple, but if yours is actually broken then you’ll want a solid contractor to fix it. If you’re not sure who to call, consider letting us work on your pump. This technology isn’t exactly splitting the atom, but it is still relatively uncommon and not all HVAC contractors will be familiar with heat pumps and how to fix them.
While you wait for the HVAC guy to get there, you can fiddle with the thermostat and see if that does anything, and check your breaker to see if perhaps it has tripped—although a tripped breaker can be a sign of trouble in the pump, so make sure to get it looked at if it happens again. You can also take a look at your outdoor unit and make sure it’s functioning correctly/not frozen over. But at the end of the day, no matter what the case, your best bet is a reliable, insured HVAC contractor who knows what to do.