Heat Pump Troubleshooting - Common Problems and Solutions

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Last updated: 
May 7, 2018

A heat pump increases energy efficiency in your home by collecting outside heat and bringing it inside during the colder months and eliminating heat from inside during the warmer months. The heat pump is part of a two-part compression refrigeration system. It consists of an air handler, which is installed indoors, and an outdoor unit, or the heat pump, which looks similar to a central air conditioner.

When the heat pump is on the fritz, there are generally three common issues. This short guide on heat pump troubleshooting will help you troubleshoot these problems.

Heat Pump-Common Issues

air heat pump

Heat Pump Doesn't Power On

If the heat pump fails to come on, it could be a sign of an electrical problem. Sometimes a tripped circuit breaker can prevent the heat pump from powering-up, even if the circuit breakers associated with the heat pump do not look tripped, it may still need to be reset in order to power the heat pump.

Corroded or worn wires in and around the air handler and the heat pump can also cause the unit to fail to come on. Sometimes oil, grease, or refrigerant can leak onto the wires and other parts, which can hinder the heat pump's operation.

Sometimes the toggle located inside the control panel of the furnace or the light switch located on the side of the unit has been accidentally shut off. This can also cause the heat pump not to come on.

Heat Pump Doesn't Heat the Whole House

Heat pumps, though pretty efficient, may have difficulties in frigid weather, when temperatures reach negatives. If you find that your home is chillier than the thermostat settings, it could be due to a faulty thermostat, low refrigerant, leaky ducts, dirty unit, or a faulty valve.

Ice Build-Up

Since the heat pump is located outside, it is subject to heavy moisture and frigid conditions, such as wind, snow, and ice. These elements can hinder the defrost cycle, which is a default mechanism built into the heat pump that thaws the snow and ice off the heat pump. Ice build-up can also be caused by an outdoor fan problem, low refrigerant, or an outdoor unit that is blocked.

You can create a barrier around the unit to protect it from extreme weather conditions, and regularly clear off any snow and ice during winter storms to help eliminate ice build up.

Tools You'll Need for the Job

Cordless Drill or 10-in-1 or 5-in-1 Screwdriver

You will need a cordless drill or a 10-in-1 or 5-in-1 screwdriver for removing screws from both the handler's casing as well as the heat pump's casing in order to access their components for inspecting.

If using a cordless drill, be sure to invest in a Phillips screwdriver 1/4 inch bit and a 5/16 bit. Also, using magnetic tips help make your job easier.

Digital Multimeter

If you are skilled at measuring voltage, a basic digital multimeter can be used to check the voltage on the heat pump equipment.

Heat Pump Troubleshooting

The steps for troubleshooting the handler and the heat pump are similar and are as follows:

1. Check the Thermostat

The first step to troubleshoot your heat pump is to ensure that the thermostat is set to the right temperature setting. Make sure it is set to the heat mode. You could also try testing the thermostat's operations when the unit isn't running to see if the air handler cycles on. If the system has a low battery, swap it with a new one. If these methods do not work, you could have a faulty thermostat.

2. Check the Power

Be sure the main circuit is on. If the circuit is off, flip the switch to reset it.

You should also remove the unit's service panel using a screwdriver or a cordless drill. This is to be sure the switch located on the inside of the unit, that resembles a light switch, is positioned up.

The pump may also have a power switch on the inside panel. Remove the panel using a screwdriver or a cordless drill, and inspect that the switch is flipped on. You should also inspect for damaged wires, which can also cause power issues.

The pump may also have a power switch on the inside panel. Remove the panel using a screwdriver or a cordless drill, and inspect that the switch is flipped on. You should also inspect for damaged wires, which can also cause power issues.

When replacing the panel, be sure it is secure. A loose panel can also cause the unit not to power up.

3. Check the Outdoor Unit

Remove the panel from the outdoor unit using a screwdriver or a cordless drill. Afterward, inspect the coils for ice build-up and the wires for damage. However, do not use sharp objects to chip ice build-up from the coils. This can cause serious damage as well as personal harm. Instead, use warm water to melt the ice and snow.

4. Check the Vents and Filter

A dirty filter or blocked vents can cause your system to short cycle or transport insufficient air supplies throughout the house. Make sure the filter is clean and the vents are not blocked.

Caution Notes

Heat pumps are sensitive systems with intricate parts, which require skills in order to avoid damaging the system. Furthermore, working around electricity always involves the risk of shock or an electrical fire. Be sure to shut off the power at the breaker box as well as the exterior shut-off box near the unit when heat pump troubleshooting.

Heat pump troubleshooting also involves exposure to refrigerant gas and other gases. If exposed to for too long or breathed in, they can cause allergic reactions and other side effects in some individuals.

Final Thoughts

These heat pump troubleshooting steps can be done on your own to help determine your heat pump problem. If after trying these heat pump troubleshooting steps, it still doesn't address your issue, then it may be time to contact an HVAC repair person.

Have you already tried these steps and saved time and money on your heat pump troubleshooting? Feel free to share your comments below.

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