Newsletter – How Your Heat Pump Works During Winter


Once the weather cools down, the heat pump you rely on to keep you cool when it’s hot ‘switches gears’ so that it can provide heat. When this happens, you may see some things that may not seem ‘normal,’ which could lead you to think you need a service call. But before you pick up the phone, please take a few minutes to learn a little more about how your heat pump works in wintertime, and why there’s a pretty good chance that your heating system is just fine.

As soon as there’s a chill in the air, customers start calling us to report what they think may be a problem with their heat pump.

“My outside unit has smoke coming out of it – I think it might be on fire!”

Relax: your heat pump’s not on fire. When the temperature drops, the outside unit on your heat pump goes into what is called “defrost cycle.” It needs to do this because it normally runs 30-40 degrees cooler than the outside air temperature. The “smoke” you see is actually steam, which forms when the heat pump fan turns off and the outside coils begin to heat up. You may also briefly hear a loud grinding sound from your unit, but this too, is normal.

“My thermostat heat strip lights are on!”

Again, this is normal. Remember that because your unit is running 30-40 degrees cooler than the outside temperature, it needs some help to warm your house. Your heat strip lights are on because your system needs electric heat to keep up with the dropping outside air temperature.

“There is a lot of water around my outdoor unit.”

You see water because when your unit goes into defrost mode, it actually is de-icing the outdoor unit, which creates water. This is normal.

“My outdoor unit is completely covered in ice-it looks like a snowball!”

This is NOT normal! Please call us right away because, for some reason, your unit is NOT going into the defrost mode.

Heat pumps may seem a little crazy at times, but generally they do a great job of keeping you comfortable year ’round.

Please feel free to call us with any questions you may have.

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