frozen heat pumpIf you heat your home with a heat pump, you have probably noticed some frosty buildup on the outdoor condenser coil now and then. It’s usually nothing to worry about, but if you ever discover your heat pump covered in frost — actually, covered in ice would be a better description — then beware. You may have a system malfunction.

Why a Heat Pump Gets Frosty

In the normal course of its operation, a heat pump may develop some frost. As the refrigerant that absorbs the heat outdoors travels through the system when the heat pump is in heating mode, some condensation may occur on the outside condenser coil. If it’s cold enough outdoors, some of the condensation will freeze.The heat pump senses this and goes into the defrost mode by switching to the cooling cycle. Once the frozen condensation is removed, the heat pump should switch back to heating mode. 

One drawback of this process is that while the heat pump is in cooling mode, your home is not being heated, so the heat pump will switch to auxiliary heat. In many cases, that means using expensive electric resistance heating. 

Reasons for Ice Buildup

There are a number of reasons why a heat pump might become encased in ice. Some of them you can fix, while others will require professional help.  

Things you can do to stop ice buildup:

  • Remove debris from around the outdoor unit; also remove ice/snow buildup with water from a garden hose.
  • Check rain gutters to make sure they’re not flooding the heat pump with runoff.
  • Make sure the outdoor unit isn’t sinking so that there’s no place for melting snow or ice to run off but around the unit.  

Call a pro to check for these problems: 

  • Faulty defrost control or timer, defrost thermostat or sensor, or defrost relay
  • Reversing valve stuck
  • Faulty outdoor fan motor
  • Low refrigerant charge

For more information on what to do if you find your heat pump covered in frost, contact Bryans United Air Conditioning. We’ve served the Gretna and Greater New Orleans area since 1982.

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