Heat pumps are an excellent alternative to central AC for whole-home heating and cooling in all but the coldest climates. Like any other home heating solution, heat pumps require regular maintenance to keep them running efficiently and prolong their lifespan. Here are three easy DIY steps any homeowner can use to maintain their heat pump.
Cleaning and Promoting Airflow
If your heat pump is like most heat pumps, it is an air-source model. These heat pumps need adequate airflow to the outdoor unit to properly heat and cool your home. The simplest way to improve the airflow of your heat pump is to regularly trim away any grass and weeds that have grown up around your outdoor unit.
Units that have gone a long time without cleaning or have never been cleaned can lose a significant amount of efficiency due to dirt, leaves, and other debris clogging the fins. You can remove much of this debris by turning off the power to your heat pump and spraying the fins with a low-pressure garden hose.
Never use a pressure washer to clean your heat pump, as the force will bend the fins and stop almost all airflow. If spraying the fins with a hose doesn't remove all debris, you can purchase a specialized tool called a fin comb to manually unblock your heat pump
Leveling the Outdoor Unit
New outdoor heat pumps are always installed on a level concrete pad. Unfortunately, parts of the pad will often begin to sink due to the cycle of softening and hardening ground caused by precipitation. When your heat pump is unlevel, it is not able to circulate oil and refrigerant evenly and certain components will experience more wear than others. Unlevel heat pumps are also more prone to mechanical damage from vibration during normal operation.
In many cases, homeowners can easily level their heat pump without calling a technician. Place a carpenter's level on top of the heat pump and use a pry bar to lift the low end of the concrete pad until the unit is level. Have a helper place stones or shovel gravel under the pad until it remains level when you remove the pry bar. If your heat pump is extremely unlevel (greater than four to six inches), or if the unit becomes unlevel within a month of your DIY repair, call a professional technician to assess your installation.
Avoiding Damage From Ice Buildup
On the coldest winter days, you may find your heat pump freezing up right when you need it the most. A small amount of frost on the outside of the unit is normal and harmless, but excessive ice buildup will block airflow and can also damage the fan and other moving parts inside the pump.
When you first notice a small amount of ice buildup on your heat pump, allow it to run for another 30 to 60 minutes and check back. Heat pumps have a defrost cycle during which the heating cycle is reversed and the unit defrosts itself. If you find that the frost is still there or has gotten worse, look for the emergency heat setting on your thermostat. In emergency heat mode, the fan and refrigerant pump are stopped and the heat pump activates backup electric, gas, oil, or hot water heating. Call a technician if your heat pump still hasn't defrosted after running emergency heat for two to three hours.
Heat pumps can be one of the most reliable type of home heating and cooling if they are properly maintained. Start using these simple steps now to maximize the life of your heat pump. For more information, contact a local HVAC company like Cape Fear Air Conditioning & Heating Co., Inc.