Flo-Aire Heating, Cooling & Electrical

How to Protect Your Heat Pump from Snow & Ice

As homeowners in Michigan, we’re aware of the unpredictable weather patterns we have, especially during winter. This season can bring not just discomfort and increased expenses, but also pose significant risks to your home and HVAC system, particularly your heat pump. Understanding how to protect your heat pump from snow and ice is important in maintaining its efficiency and preventing those costly repairs. This guide will dive into practical steps for protecting your HVAC system against winter’s harshest conditions.
Heat pump unit on the side of a home in winter
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    What is a Heat Pump?

    A heat pump is an essential component for many HVAC systems, designed for both heating and cooling your home. It works by transferring heat from one place to another. In the winter, it extracts heat from the outside air and transfers it indoors, and in the summer, it reverses the process by removing heat from your home. Heat pumps are known for having energy-saving capabilities, as it moves heat rather than generating it, making it a greener and more cost-effective option compared to the traditional heating and cooling methods.

    What Type of Damage is Caused by Snow and Ice?

    Snow and ice can significantly impact your heat pump’s efficiency. When these elements accumulate around the unit, they obstruct the airflow, forcing the heat pump to work even harder. This not only reduces the system’s efficiency but can also lead to higher energy costs on your next bill.

    Additionally, heavy ice can cause physical damage to the heat pump’s components. Blocked exhaust vents due to snow buildup are a huge concern, as they can create safety hazards. Regular maintenance to manage snow and ice is key for a smooth operation of your heat pump.

    The Heat Pump's Defrost Cycle

    Photo of a modern air source heat pump unit standing against the wall of a home. Shot in winter, in a snowy setting.

    The heat pump’s defrost cycle is an important feature for winter operation. It activates to melt ice and frost buildup on the unit, to ensure proper airflow and heat transfer. During this cycle, the heat pump temporarily reverses operation, sending warm refrigerant to the outdoor coils. You might notice a brief period of cool air from your vents during this cycle. This defrost mechanism is a normal part of the heat pump’s function, designed to maintain its efficiency and prevent long-term damage from ice accumulation over time.

    Heat Pump Maintenance Tips

    A small amount of snow and ice on your heat pump is to be expected, but if it stays frozen for over three hours, it’s a sign to call a professional to avoid further damage. To minimize the risk of snow and ice buildup on your heat pump, there are several preventative measures you can take –

    1. Remove debris and maintain a two-foot clearance around and above the unit.
    2. Turn off the unit or switch to emergency heat when cleaning.
    3. Avoid using sharp objects for snow and ice removal.
    4. Install a canopy or shelter for protection, which also aids in summer efficiency.
    5. Regularly inspect for weak tree limbs above the unit.
    6. Insulate pipes against freezing temperatures.
    7. Keep the condenser clear and check for damage.
    8. Use warm water, not boiling, to melt ice.
    9. Replace the air filter regularly for optimal airflow.

    How to Protect your Rooftop Unit

    For business owners looking to protect rooftop units this winter, don’t neglect these two things. Firstly, a proper drainage system is key to ensure that melting snow and ice doesn’t accumulate and seep into the unit. Also, regularly clean & inspect your gutters and drainage system, at least twice a year. This will help prevent water-related issues and maintain the unit’s overall efficiency.

    When to Call a Professional?

    Call a professional if your heat pump shows signs of significant ice buildup, starts making strange sounds, or if the defrost cycle seems to become less effective. HVAC experts can safely address these issues, making sure your system runs efficiently and avoiding more costly repairs in the future.

    Winterproofing Your Heat Pump

    As winter settles in, remember that the health of your heat pump is key to your indoor comfort. By following the DIY maintenance tips, you can avoid the pitfalls of winter damage. However, when situations arise that are beyond DIY fixes, it’s time to reach out to the experts at Flo-Aire Heating, Cooling & Electrical. Contact us today to schedule a service for your heat pump this winter. 

    Frequently Asked Questions

    We recommend you check your heat pump after every major snowfall or ice storm, and at least once a month during winter, to make sure it's free of snow, ice, and any debris.
    While the exterior is designed to withstand typical weather in Metro Detroit, heavy snowfall can strain the system by blocking airflow and causing ice buildup, potentially damaging the internal components of the unit.

    If you notice ice buildup not clearing, longer than usual defrost cycles, or the unit struggling to maintain a set temperature, the defrost cycle might be malfunctioning, and it's time to call an HVAC professional.

    Choose a cover that's designed for heat pumps that allow proper airflow. Avoid completely sealing the unit; instead, use a breathable, water-resistant type of material.

    Signs include longer running times to maintain temperature, increased energy bills, uneven heating, or frequent activation of the defrost cycle.

    Flo-Aire Heating, Cooling & Electrical, Inc.
    Flo-Aire Heating, Cooling & Electrical, Inc.

    Locally owned and operated in Southgate, MI since 1955, Flo-Aire Heating, Cooling & Electrical is one of the top heating & cooling companies in Southeast Michigan. Flo-Aire provides residential, commercial and industrial HVAC services throughout all of Metro Detroit.

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