Have You Checked On Your Heat Pump?

Jan. 25, 2016

Effects of Excessive Snow and Ice on Heat Pumps

Don’t let a heat pump covered in ice or snow become the cause of your higher than normal electric bill. Do something about it now, so you don’t end up paying for it later.

"If the outside unit is covered in ice or snow, the snow must be removed in order to work properly," said Paul Gillespie, energy adviser at REC. "When a unit is covered with excessive snow or ice, it operates in Emergency heat mode, which uses more electricity and can increase your monthly electric bill."

Turn the thermostat to Emergency heat or the off position and remove the snow and ice. You can pour warm water over the unit to melt the snow and ice, but DO NOT use hot water. Cold water from a hose will also help. DO NOT attempt to forcefully remove ice buildup from any part of the heat pump.

If you cannot remove snow or ice easily with a broom or brush, do not try to pry or chisel ice from the unit. Doing so could cause severe or irreparable damage to the heat pump. Do not use any sharp objects to pick or knock the ice off the coils of the heat pump. This could cause severe damage and personal injury.

“Heat pumps draw air from the areas surrounding them, which is all four sides of the outdoor unit,” explained Gillespie. “It is important to clear these areas of snow and ice buildup in order to allow air to freely reach the heat pump. This will allow the heat pump to operate as efficiently as possible and will alleviate strain on the heat pump.”

Gillespie added, “Most heat pumps discharge air in an upward direction from the top of the unit. It is important to make sure that this area is clear of snow and ice to allow air to easily discharge.”

If your heat pump is located in an area that is subject to exposure to melting snow and ice (such as underneath an overhang or gutter that may be frozen), check the unit repeatedly to ensure that ice has not built up inside the heat pump.

If you cannot clear the heat pump of snow and ice for any reason, switch the system to “Emergency Heat” at the thermostat. This will turn the heat pump off and engage electric resistance heaters that are located inside in order to provide heat for your home.

But, remember this is a significantly more expensive mode of operation for a heat pump system, so we do not advise continuing in this mode for more than a few days. If at that time, the snow and ice around the heat pump has not melted, feel free to schedule a service call with local NATE Certified Heat Pump HVAC technician to have serviced and evaluated.

Make it a habit to look at the outdoor heat pump during the winter for signs of excessive ice or snow build-up on or around the heat pump.

REC provides electric service to over 161,000 connections in parts of 22 Virginia counties. With its general office in Fredericksburg, Va., the Cooperative operates and maintains more than 16,000 miles of power lines through its service area, which ranges from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the tidal waters of the Chesapeake Bay. Follow REC on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.