How to care for your heat pump during a winter storm

Some businesses faced dozens of calls about heat pumps last week when P.E.I. was hit with its first major winter storm of 2022. 

Carefully shovel around the unit, and use hot water to melt ice where you can

Do not use tools to chip or scrape ice off the machine, say people in the industry. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

It's the time of year where snow and ice builds up around your home, and your heat pump system may face the brunt of it. 

Keeping an eye on those units and carefully clearing them off when you can is a way to keep them working properly throughout the winter, say people in the industry. Some businesses had a few calls and others had dozens about heat pumps last week after P.E.I. was hit with its first major winter storm of 2022. 

Here are some tips from Ed Jardine with Greenfoot Energy Solutions and Wayne Russell from J.S. Refrigeration on caring for your heat pump this winter.

1. Have hot water at the ready

Problems with heat pumps during or after major winter storms generally circle back to the heat pump's fan motor, Jardine says.

"A service call is definitely where most people start, but it is something the homeowner can usually address themselves," he said.

"Hot water through the open grate in the back onto the fan to melt ice and snow that's in there interfering with the fan's ability to spin."

Russell said your outdoor unit is "all one big copper coil," so, generally, ice build up around it or on it can be dealt with using hot water. "It should take care of the majority of it," he said. 

2. Avoid scraping or chipping with tools

Jardine and Russell said to not use tools on the unit that could scrape or damage the outside or inside. 

"You've got your coil in there that can be damaged quite easily, it's got fins on it similar to the radiator in your car," Jardine said. "So no knocking, scraping, chipping, that sort of thing." 

If you're uncomfortable with clearing snow from the coil or pouring hot water through the unit, Jardine and Russell suggest contacting a technician.

3. Clear snow underneath and around the unit

Russell said your heat pump will enter a defrost every hour in the winter time, which will melt ice inside and force it to drip out underneath.

Problems will pop up if there is major snow buildup under your unit and the drips have nowhere to go.

"It will just freeze up right inside the heat pump … so you definitely want to keep the snow away from this as best as possible," he said.

"Shovel out underneath them and around them as best you can."

4. Three-sided snow roofs

Something to think about if the elements are hard on your heat pump is a three-sided snow roof, Jardine said. 

"You don't want to interfere with the unit's ability to take heat from the air and dissipate that heat out the front of the unit, so you can't close it in with a four-sided structure, but three-sided you're at least blocking snow from the top and the sides," he said.

"There's lots of snow roofs available out there and they go a long ways."

With files from Island Morning


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