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Heat Pump Cold Weather Problems

heat pump in cold weather

Heat pumps have a hard time generating heat in extremely cold weather.

This article is a collection of questions about cold-weather heat pump problems that we’ve received at HomeTips, along with the answers we’ve offered.

Need help NOW? Get a heat pump repair pro fast!

Brenda: We have a heat pump with our AC unit. It works fine until the temperature drops outside. The temp outside is now 11 degrees and no heat at all will come out. It just blows cold air. We have cut it off, left it off for an hour or so, turn it back on and all that comes out is cold air. Can you advise the problem?

Richard: I just bought a house that has gas heat with heat pump. I have always had an electric heat pump. Will the outside unit function when the temperature is below 40 degrees? I noticed it hasn’t been running. Is this a problem?[GARD align=”left”]

Don V: In general, heat pumps can be poor at heating when outside temperatures get really cold. Here are a couple of articles on other sites that discuss this:

Common Heat Pump Problems

Heat Pump Effectiveness In Cold Weather

Then again, any of several components could be malfunctioning. It may pay to have a pro come out and check your system. You can get bids from local pros through this free online service: a heat pump repair technician.

Heat Pump’s Outside Unit Doesn’t Come On

Jimmy: I’ve bought a home and it has a 7 year old Bryant Heat pump/Gas furnace combination unit. We have only lived here 1 month. The home heats fine, but I did notice at late last night that the outside unit looked like it only ran for a few minuets. I got up twice later in the night and the furnace was running on gas and the unit outside was not running. In other words, the gas side had kicked in as needed. Should the outside unit ever come on when temp is below say freezing? Last night it was 10 degrees here in IN. When we had warmer days, say 35 or warmer, the unit did run outside. When the heat pump runs outside it is rather quiet for a 3 ton unit. Should I be concerned that the unit ever comes on when temp is so cold or is it just trying to cycle and then it realizes it is too cold so it stays then shut off until outside temp recovers above freezing or in the 30’s??

Don V: Though the unit may need servicing, I think your speculation at the end of your question is right on target. I’m guessing that the outside temperature is so cold that the auxiliary heat is doing all of the work. Unfortunately, this is not very efficient—heat pumps are not at their best in super cold weather.

Heat Pump Is Frozen

Bettina: Hello, My Heat Pump unit outside is frozen and has a thick block of ice on it. I have turned my unit off. What can I do to thaw out the unit outside?

Don V: Here are some conversations on other sites that might be helpful. Be sure to read the second one after you read the first one.

A Frozen Heat Pump Is Normal

Frozen Heat Pump FAQ

What To Do If Heat Pump Is Frozen

More About Frozen Heat Pumps

Should I Run My Heat Pump In Cold Weather?

Roy: I have a standard “air source” type heat pump. It’s only a year old so it’s in great working order. Living in Michigan it gets well below 32 degrees in the winter. Is it wise or not to run it at such cold temperatures. Or should I stick with $2.00/gal.propane?

Don V: In general, heat pumps —both gas and electric—can be poor at heating when outside temperatures get really cold. Here are a couple of articles on other sites that discuss this:

Cold Weather Heat Pump Problems

Heat Pumps and Cold Weather

If the auxiliary heat has to kick on, it uses electricity to heat your home—and that gets very pricey. $2 propane as a heat source is probably much more affordable.

Are My Heat Pump’s Ducts Okay?

Nikko: We have a heat pump that has trouble heating the house below about 40 degrees. Right now the temperature is below freezing and the house is more than ten degrees colder than outside, even with auxiliary heat on. We paid to have the ducts and coils cleaned, and it helped but did not fix the problem. We looked at our ducts as best we were able and noticed that the system is pulling air from BETWEEN our basement ceiling and ground level floor. There is a big opening, about 1.5 ft2. Is this normal? Should we close it off? There is a normal register on the first floor (but not heated basement level) that is also pulling air.

Don V: If I understand your description, the return-air is traveling in a chase between the ceiling and floor above it. Sometimes return-air ducts are designed that way—no actual metal duct, but rather a boxed-in chase. That’s okay, because it’s just drawing room air back to the heating appliance through that chase. You wouldn’t want to deliver heated or cooled air to rooms through a chase, however (too much heat loss).

In general, heat pumps can be poor at heating when outside temperatures get really cold. Here are a couple of articles on other sites that discuss this:

Common Heat Pump Problems #1

Heat Pumps and Cold Weather

Then again, any of several components could be malfunctioning. It may pay to have a pro come out and check your system. You can get bids from local pros through this free online service: a heat pump repair technician.

Do Heat Pumps Work with Radiant Heating?

Stephen: Hello! Do heat pumps make sense with Minnesota winters? Also, can they be used with a radiator heating system? Thanks very much.[GARD align=”right”]

Don V: Typical air-source heat pumps are not normally used for radiant heating systems, but ground-source heat pumps are. In general, heat pumps can be problematic in really cold climates. Here are a couple of discussions about this on two other sites:

Heat Pumps In Cold Weather Discussion #1

Heat Pumps In Cold Weather Discussion #2

Call for free estimates from local pros now:
[telnumlink] 1-866-342-3263[/telnumlink]

Heat Pump Cold Weather Problems & Repairs

heat pump in cold weather©Don Vandervort, HomeTips

Heat pumps have a hard time generating heat in extremely cold weather.

This article is a collection of questions about cold-weather heat pump problems that we’ve received at HomeTips, along with the answers we’ve offered.

Need help NOW? Get a heat pump repair pro fast!

Heat Pump Not Heating

Brenda: We have a heat pump with our AC unit. It works fine until the temperature drops outside. The temp outside is now 11 degrees and no heat at all will come out. It just blows cold air. We have cut it off, left it off for an hour or so, turn it back on and all that comes out is cold air. Can you advise the problem?

Richard: I just bought a house that has gas heat with heat pump. I have always had an electric heat pump. Will the outside unit function when the temperature is below 40 degrees? I noticed it hasn’t been running. Is this a problem?[GARD align=”left”]

Don V: In general, heat pumps can be poor at heating when outside temperatures get really cold. Here is an article on another site that discusses this:

Heat Pump Effectiveness In Cold Weather

Then again, any of several components could be malfunctioning. It may pay to have a pro come out and check your system. You can get bids from local pros through this free online service: a heat pump repair technician.

Heat Pump’s Outside Unit Doesn’t Come On

Jimmy: I’ve bought a home and it has a 7 year old Bryant Heat pump/Gas furnace combination unit. We have only lived here 1 month. The home heats fine, but I did notice at late last night that the outside unit looked like it only ran for a few minuets. I got up twice later in the night and the furnace was running on gas and the unit outside was not running. In other words, the gas side had kicked in as needed. Should the outside unit ever come on when temp is below say freezing? Last night it was 10 degrees here in IN. When we had warmer days, say 35 or warmer, the unit did run outside. When the heat pump runs outside it is rather quiet for a 3 ton unit. Should I be concerned that the unit ever comes on when temp is so cold or is it just trying to cycle and then it realizes it is too cold so it stays then shut off until outside temp recovers above freezing or in the 30’s??

Don V: Though the unit may need servicing, I think your speculation at the end of your question is right on target. I’m guessing that the outside temperature is so cold that the auxiliary heat is doing all of the work. Unfortunately, this is not very efficient—heat pumps are not at their best in super cold weather.

Heat Pump Is Frozen

Bettina: Hello, My Heat Pump unit outside is frozen and has a thick block of ice on it. I have turned my unit off. What can I do to thaw out the unit outside?

Don V: It isn’t unusual for a heat pump to freeze up in cold weather, but it should kick into “defrost” mode and melt the ice periodically. Here are some conversations on other sites that might be helpful. Be sure to read the second one after you read the first one.

A Frozen Heat Pump Is Normal

Frozen Heat Pump FAQ

What To Do If Heat Pump Is Frozen

More About Frozen Heat Pumps

Should I Run My Heat Pump In Cold Weather?

Roy: I have a standard “air source” type heat pump. It’s only a year old so it’s in great working order. Living in Michigan it gets well below 32 degrees in the winter. Is it wise or not to run it at such cold temperatures. Or should I stick with $2.00/gal.propane? Don V: In general, heat pumps —both gas and electric—can be poor at heating when outside temperatures get really cold. Here is an article on another site that discusses this:

Heat Pumps and Cold Weather

If the auxiliary heat has to kick on, it uses electricity to heat your home—and that gets very pricey. $2 propane as a heat source is probably much more affordable.

[Ad_content POS]

Are My Heat Pump’s Ducts Okay?

Nikko: We have a heat pump that has trouble heating the house below about 40 degrees. Right now the temperature is below freezing and the house is more than ten degrees colder than outside, even with auxiliary heat on. We paid to have the ducts and coils cleaned, and it helped but did not fix the problem. We looked at our ducts as best we were able and noticed that the system is pulling air from BETWEEN our basement ceiling and ground level floor. There is a big opening, about 1.5 ft2. Is this normal? Should we close it off? There is a normal register on the first floor (but not heated basement level) that is also pulling air.

Don V: If I understand your description, the return-air is traveling in a chase between the ceiling and floor above it. Sometimes return-air ducts are designed that way—no actual metal duct, but rather a boxed-in chase. That’s okay, because it’s just drawing room air back to the heating appliance through that chase. You wouldn’t want to deliver heated or cooled air to rooms through a chase, however (too much heat loss).

In general, heat pumps can be poor at heating when outside temperatures get really cold. Here is an article on another site that discusses this:

Heat Pumps and Cold Weather

Then again, any of several components could be malfunctioning. It may pay to have a pro come out and check your system. You can get bids from local pros through this free online service: a heat pump repair technician.

Do Heat Pumps Work with Radiant Heating?

Stephen: Hello! Do heat pumps make sense with Minnesota winters? Also, can they be used with a radiator heating system? Thanks very much.[GARD align=”right”]

Don V: Typical air-source heat pumps are not normally used for radiant heating systems, but ground-source heat pumps are. In general, heat pumps can be problematic in really cold climates. Here are a couple of discussions about this on two other sites:

Heat Pumps In Cold Weather Discussion #1

Heat Pumps In Cold Weather Discussion #2

get a heat pump pro

 

This FREE service will help you find a qualified local heating & AC professional.

Call for free estimates from local pros now:
[telnumlink] 1-866-342-3263[/telnumlink]

 

Heat Pump Ratings & Reviews

Consumer reviews and ratings of various heat pumps on the market. HomeTips offers reviews of Trane, Lennox, and Carrier heat pumps.

Need help NOW? Get a Heat Pump Pro Fast!

Heat pumps on the market today are substantially more energy efficient than models manufactured just a few years ago. New technologies have been integrated into the systems to allow for better heat recovery at colder temperatures. Also, heat pumps today can be used to heat water for domestic use, radiant floor heating, and multiple-zone forced-air systems.

Here are some basic comparisons of popular models:

Trane-XL16i

Trane-XL16i Heat Pump

Trane XL16i

The XL16i has the highest SEER and HSPF ratings of all Trane residential air-source heat pumps that do not use R22 as a refrigerant. The XL16i uses the environmentally kind R410A refrigerant, which is not harmful to the ozone layer. Under optimal conditions, the XL16i can achieve a SEER rating of up to 17 and an HSPF of 9.85. The unit also comes with a two-stage cooling setting that allows for more-energy-efficient heating and cooling during mild temperatures and a more even flow during start-up periods.

Depending on the model, the Trane XL16i air-source heat pump has a 2- to 5-ton cooling capacity. Despite the high output, the XL16i is relatively quiet with a nominal sound rating of 74 decibels (dB). For forced-air systems, Trane also offers an air-filtration upgrade to remove pollen, dust, and other possible irritants.

Lennox-XP19

Dave Lennox-XP19 Heat Pump

Dave Lennox Signature Collection XP19

Lennox has made considerable improvements to the insulation and design of its heat pumps, offering one of the quietest models available. A redesigned fan grille and proprietary technologies have brought the XP19 noise level down to around 69 dB, or about as loud as casual conversation.

The XP19 exceeds Energy Star requirements with ratings of up to 18.6 SEER and 9.3 HSPF. This, coupled with a two-stage compressor that is designed to run on low speed 80 percent of the time, makes the Lennox unit one of the most energy frugal on the market today.

The XP19 also has dual-fuel capability, which allows it to work with a gas furnace. This in turn allows for more-efficient heating options during periods of extreme cold when air-source heat pumps are less likely to perform at optimal energy-saving levels. The unit also offers a whole-house dehumidification system as an optional upgrade.

Carrier-Infinity-19

Carrier-Infinity-19 Heat Pump

Carrier Infinity 19 Heat Pump

The Infinity 19 air-source heat pump by Carrier is a two-stage unit that uses Puron instead of R22 as a refrigerant. Puron is an environmentally sound refrigerant designed not to harm the earth’s ozone layer and is used in most of the Carrier product line.

The Infinity 19 model operates with a moderate to low noise output around 70 dB, or about as loud as a refrigerator or fan. The Infinity 19 has an energy rating of 19 SEER and up to 9 HSPF.

Along with a humidity control and air-filtration upgrade, the Infinity 19 can also be equipped with the Infinity Control programmable thermostat. This device allows for remote access, so you can adjust room temperatures via the Internet or telephone. It can manage seven days’ worth of programming for up to eight specific heating zones.

The Infinity 19 comes with a 10-year limited warranty on the compressor and a 5-year limited warranty on other parts.

NEXT SEE:

Heat Pumps Buying Guide

Heat Pump Efficiency Rating & Sizing

Heat Pump Controls & Options

How a Heat Pump Works

Featured Resource: Find a Pre-Screened Local Heat Pump Installation Pro

Call for free estimates from local pros now:
[telnumlink] 1-866-342-3263[/telnumlink]

Heat Pump Ratings & Reviews

Consumer reviews and ratings of various heat pumps on the market. HomeTips offers reviews of Trane, Lennox, and Carrier heat pumps.

Need help NOW? Get a Heat Pump Pro Fast!

Heat pumps on the market today are substantially more energy efficient than models manufactured just a few years ago. New technologies have been integrated into the systems to allow for better heat recovery at colder temperatures. Also, heat pumps today can be used to heat water for domestic use, radiant floor heating, and multiple-zone forced-air systems.

Here are some basic comparisons of popular models:

Trane-XL16i

Trane-XL16i Heat Pump

Trane XL16i

The XL16i has the highest SEER and HSPF ratings of all Trane residential air-source heat pumps that do not use R22 as a refrigerant. The XL16i uses the environmentally kind R410A refrigerant, which is not harmful to the ozone layer. Under optimal conditions, the XL16i can achieve a SEER rating of up to 17 and an HSPF of 9.85. The unit also comes with a two-stage cooling setting that allows for more-energy-efficient heating and cooling during mild temperatures and a more even flow during start-up periods.

Depending on the model, the Trane XL16i air-source heat pump has a 2- to 5-ton cooling capacity. Despite the high output, the XL16i is relatively quiet with a nominal sound rating of 74 decibels (dB). For forced-air systems, Trane also offers an air-filtration upgrade to remove pollen, dust, and other possible irritants.

Lennox-XP19

Dave Lennox-XP19 Heat Pump

Dave Lennox Signature Collection XP19

Lennox has made considerable improvements to the insulation and design of its heat pumps, offering one of the quietest models available. A redesigned fan grille and proprietary technologies have brought the XP19 noise level down to around 69 dB, or about as loud as casual conversation.

The XP19 exceeds Energy Star requirements with ratings of up to 18.6 SEER and 9.3 HSPF. This, coupled with a two-stage compressor that is designed to run on low speed 80 percent of the time, makes the Lennox unit one of the most energy frugal on the market today.

The XP19 also has dual-fuel capability, which allows it to work with a gas furnace. This in turn allows for more-efficient heating options during periods of extreme cold when air-source heat pumps are less likely to perform at optimal energy-saving levels. The unit also offers a whole-house dehumidification system as an optional upgrade.

Carrier-Infinity-19

Carrier-Infinity-19 Heat Pump

Carrier Infinity 19 Heat Pump

The Infinity 19 air-source heat pump by Carrier is a two-stage unit that uses Puron instead of R22 as a refrigerant. Puron is an environmentally sound refrigerant designed not to harm the earth’s ozone layer and is used in most of the Carrier product line.

The Infinity 19 model operates with a moderate to low noise output around 70 dB, or about as loud as a refrigerator or fan. The Infinity 19 has an energy rating of 19 SEER and up to 9 HSPF.

Along with a humidity control and air-filtration upgrade, the Infinity 19 can also be equipped with the Infinity Control programmable thermostat. This device allows for remote access, so you can adjust room temperatures via the Internet or telephone. It can manage seven days’ worth of programming for up to eight specific heating zones.

The Infinity 19 comes with a 10-year limited warranty on the compressor and a 5-year limited warranty on other parts.

NEXT SEE:

Heat Pumps Buying Guide

Heat Pump Efficiency Rating & Sizing

Heat Pump Controls & Options

How a Heat Pump Works

Featured Resource: Find a Pre-Screened Local Heat Pump Installation Pro

Call for free estimates from local pros now:
[telnumlink] 1-866-342-3263[/telnumlink]

Heat Pump Controls & Options

Expert advice on various controls and options—including variable speed motors—that you may want to consider when shopping for a heat pump.

Need help NOW? Find a Heat Pump Pro Fast!

This is a continuation of the Heat Pump Buying Guide. The most efficient heat pumps have variable-capacity controls. Rather than running the system at full capacity all of the time, these controls coordinate the compressor and blower to adjust to your house’s heating and cooling load requirements at any given time. Because they seldom run at full speed, these heat pumps are quieter, not to mention that they save you money over the long haul.

Zoned Heating and Cooling System

Zoned heating and cooling is one of the hottest new concepts in efficient energy usage. With a zoned system, you can independently control the airflow sent to various rooms or zones in your home, directing heating or cooling where you want it at various times of the day. To make this possible, a system needs a special multizone programmable thermostat and a few motorized dampers.

For best results, the air handler’s output should be variable. In fact, it’s best if it can be controlled over an infinite range of speeds, automatically adjusting the amount of heating or cooling delivered throughout the house according to the need. If you are in the market for a heat pump, there are several innovations to look for that have greatly improved heat-pump effectiveness:[GARD align=”left”]

 

Two-Speed Compressors

Two-speed compressors allow heat pumps to cool or heat only at the capacity needed at any given time, while heat pumps with a standard compressor can only operate at maximum capacity. This feature not only saves on energy costs, but it also reduces wear and tear on the compressor. If you have a large home with a zone-control system, a two-speed heat pump connected to automatic dampers will allow you to keep different rooms at different temperatures.

 

Variable-Speed Motors

Variable-speed or dual-speed motors on the blowers, outdoor fans, or both help to maintain a consistent and comfortable air velocity, also resulting in savings on your utility bill. An added benefit is a reduction in noise because the blower does not have to run at full speed at all times.

 

Super High Efficiency Heat Pumps

Very high-efficiency heat pumps come with a desuperheater, which utilizes waste heat from the pump’s cooling mode to heat water at a rate two to three times faster than an ordinary water heater. Scroll compressors, unlike the piston compressors used in standard heat pumps, do a better job of forcing the refrigerant into smaller and smaller areas. This not only results in a longer and quieter operating life, but it also provides 10 to 15 degrees F. warmer air when in the heating mode.[GARD align=”right”]

 

Backup Burners

In addition to electric-resistance heaters as a backup in cold weather, heat pumps can also be supplemented with burners that operate on several different types of fuel. Backup burners solve the problem of providing heat during very cold weather and at a reduction in electrical costs. Few heat-pump manufacturers incorporate both types of heat supply in one unit, but two smaller systems can share the same ductwork. This type of system can save on energy costs, depending on how expensive the combustion fuel in your area is compared to electricity.

 

Heat Pump Noise

When selecting a heat pump, look for a unit with an outdoor sound rating of less than 7.6 bels (76 decibels). Also, talk to the dealer about the availability of noise-reducing platforms and sound screens.

NEXT SEE:

Heat Pumps Buying Guide

Heat Pump Efficiency Rating & Sizing

How a Heat Pump Works

Heat Pump Ratings & Reviews

Featured Resource: Find a Pre-Screened Local Heat Pump Pro

Call for free estimates from local pros now:
[telnumlink] 1-866-342-3263[/telnumlink]

Heat Pump Controls & Options

Expert advice on various controls and options—including variable speed motors—that you may want to consider when shopping for a heat pump.

Need help NOW? Find a Heat Pump Pro Fast!

This is a continuation of the Heat Pump Buying Guide. The most efficient heat pumps have variable-capacity controls. Rather than running the system at full capacity all of the time, these controls coordinate the compressor and blower to adjust to your house’s heating and cooling load requirements at any given time. Because they seldom run at full speed, these heat pumps are quieter, not to mention that they save you money over the long haul.

Zoned Heating and Cooling System

Zoned heating and cooling is one of the hottest new concepts in efficient energy usage. With a zoned system, you can independently control the airflow sent to various rooms or zones in your home, directing heating or cooling where you want it at various times of the day. To make this possible, a system needs a special multizone programmable thermostat and a few motorized dampers.

For best results, the air handler’s output should be variable. In fact, it’s best if it can be controlled over an infinite range of speeds, automatically adjusting the amount of heating or cooling delivered throughout the house according to the need. If you are in the market for a heat pump, there are several innovations to look for that have greatly improved heat-pump effectiveness:[GARD align=”left”]

 

Two-Speed Compressors

Two-speed compressors allow heat pumps to cool or heat only at the capacity needed at any given time, while heat pumps with a standard compressor can only operate at maximum capacity. This feature not only saves on energy costs, but it also reduces wear and tear on the compressor. If you have a large home with a zone-control system, a two-speed heat pump connected to automatic dampers will allow you to keep different rooms at different temperatures.

 

Variable-Speed Motors

Variable-speed or dual-speed motors on the blowers, outdoor fans, or both help to maintain a consistent and comfortable air velocity, also resulting in savings on your utility bill. An added benefit is a reduction in noise because the blower does not have to run at full speed at all times.

 

Super High Efficiency Heat Pumps

Very high-efficiency heat pumps come with a desuperheater, which utilizes waste heat from the pump’s cooling mode to heat water at a rate two to three times faster than an ordinary water heater. Scroll compressors, unlike the piston compressors used in standard heat pumps, do a better job of forcing the refrigerant into smaller and smaller areas. This not only results in a longer and quieter operating life, but it also provides 10 to 15 degrees F. warmer air when in the heating mode.[GARD align=”right”]

 

Backup Burners

In addition to electric-resistance heaters as a backup in cold weather, heat pumps can also be supplemented with burners that operate on several different types of fuel. Backup burners solve the problem of providing heat during very cold weather and at a reduction in electrical costs. Few heat-pump manufacturers incorporate both types of heat supply in one unit, but two smaller systems can share the same ductwork. This type of system can save on energy costs, depending on how expensive the combustion fuel in your area is compared to electricity.

 

Heat Pump Noise

When selecting a heat pump, look for a unit with an outdoor sound rating of less than 7.6 bels (76 decibels). Also, talk to the dealer about the availability of noise-reducing platforms and sound screens.

NEXT SEE:

Heat Pumps Buying Guide

Heat Pump Efficiency Rating & Sizing

How a Heat Pump Works

Heat Pump Ratings & Reviews

Featured Resource: Find a Pre-Screened Local Heat Pump Pro

Call for free estimates from local pros now:
[telnumlink] 1-866-342-3263[/telnumlink]