Residential heat pumps are HVAC systems designed to extract and redistribute warm air around the house, cooling a home’s interior by redirecting warmth outside in the summer months, and vice versa in the winter. While heat pumps are generally reliable devices, they may, as with any appliance, experience the occasional hiccup. As these systems are responsible for keeping the inside of a home at a comfy temperature all-year-round, homeowners will want to know how to troubleshoot their systems in instances of the occasional breakdown.

Below, Spoor’s Heating & Air Conditioning shares some troubleshooting tips for fixing the five most common heat pump problems as well as how to tell when it’s time to seek professional heat pump repairs from local HVAC contractors.

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Malfunctioning Heat Pump Unit

Running Constantly

During a scorching-hot California summer, it’s entirely normal for residential heat pumps to run constantly as they work to keep indoor temperatures cool and comfy. However, if a heat pump won’t stop running even on a cold day, homeowners should check a few things.

  • Thermostat. First things first, homeowners should check their thermostat to ensure it is appropriately set. If the thermostat is set correctly, it’s time to contact an HVAC technician. There may be an electrical issue or miscalibration, causing the thermostat to misread the temperature.
  • Dirty Coils. Over time, a heat pump’s coils may gather dust, dirt, and grime. If they become too dirty, the built-up debris could erode the coils and prevent the unit from releasing heat. Erosion can lead to refrigerant leaks, preventing the unit from cooling efficiently, and causing the heat pump to run constantly. In cases of refrigerant leaks, the heat pump should be professionally serviced.
  • Broken Compressor Contactor. In heat pumps and AC units alike, compressor contactors are responsible for regulating the system’s amperage. If these pieces malfunction or become damaged, they could be responsible for causing a heat pump to work overtime. Unfortunately, this can quickly lead to a spike in utility bills. If this happens, homeowners should contact a local heating repair company right away.

Not Turning On

A heat pump that won’t turn on at all is a major inconvenience, especially on a hot day. The following are some of the possible causes of a stalled heat pump.

  • Electrical Issues. Once again, before checking anything else, ensure the thermostat is set correctly. If its set to be operating yet is not, then contact an HVAC professional about electrical problems.
  • Loss Of Power. In certain situations, something as simple as a tripped breaker could be halting the operation of a residence’s heat pump. Check your breakers and reset them if necessary. However, if they’re set correctly, and the problem persists, the issue could be electrical.
  • Reversing Valve Damage. The heat pump’s reversing valve, as its name suggests, is the component responsible for reversing the flow of refrigerant — allowing heat pumps to operate as heaters and air conditioners. If a heat pump turns on just fine for cooling, but not for heating, then its reversing valve may need to be replaced by an HVAC technician.
  • Broken Starter Capacitor. Listen for a clicking noise when the heat pump is trying to start up. If one exists, then homeowners should request professional repairs for their starter capacitor.

Not Producing Warm Air

A heat pump that isn’t producing any heated air is frustrating, to say the least. These are some of the possible causes.

  • Air Filter Needs To Be Replaced. A heat pump that isn’t producing heat could simply be suffering from a neglected air filter. A home’s air filter catches dirt, dust, and other air pollutants. Over time, the debris can build up, blocking airflow to the compressor, and halting hot air production. Replacing the old filter with a new one should yield a simple fix.
  • Low Refrigerant Levels. If a heat pump blows cold air while in heat mode, the problem may be attributed to low refrigerant levels or a refrigerant leak. In any case, one of our HVAC technicians should be called to address the issue.
  • Obstructed Unit. Heat pumps often have two main units, one outside the home and the other inside. Sometimes, the outdoor unit may become obstructed by leaves, dirt, or any other outdoor debris. These obstructions will inhibit airflow to the unit, causing insufficient heat production. Cleaning the heat pump’s outdoor unit can remedy the issue.

Heat Pump Isn’t Cooling

Heat pumps cool homes by extracting heat from indoors and funneling it outdoors. Without proper cooling, it’s hard to keep a home comfortable. The following could be some causes for a heat pump failing to cool.

  • Low Refrigerant Levels. Similarly to a heat pump that fails to produce heat, a system with issues cooling may be experiencing depleted refrigerant levels.
  • Dirty Components Blocking Airflow. If a heat pump is set to cool mode but produces lukewarm air, the outdoor unit may be having trouble extracting air. This could be due to an obstructed outdoor unit or dirty air filter. Check both and clean them regularly.
  • Damaged Reversing Valve. If the air coming from the vents is hot, then the problem could be a damaged reversing valve. This problem will need to be addressed by a technician who can replace the part.

Unit Covered In Ice

Many Californians are often surprised to find their heat pumps frozen over, given the state’s warm climate. Nonetheless, it does happen. The following are some possible causes for a frozen heat pump.

  • Dirty Coils. As dirt covers the coil of a heat pump’s outdoor unit, it will become further insulated from hot air. This problem can be circumvented by routinely replacing air filters and scheduling routine maintenance.
  • Low Refrigerant Levels. As a heat pump’s refrigerant charge depletes, the system will begin to grow colder. This is the most likely reason for a frozen heat pump and can be fixed by scheduling a technician to replenish the refrigerant charge.
  • Leaking Refrigerant. If a heat pump has a refrigerant leak, it may freeze over. In this case, the system should be turned off to prevent additional damage, and homeowners should contact a professional for emergency repairs.