Heat Pump FAQs: Homeowners' Top 10 Questions

Top 10 Heat Pump Questions

As heat pumps become more and more popular, homeowners seem to have a few FAQs about this 'year-round' indoor comfort equipment. If you have some questions, you are not alone! Get your answer to our "Homeowners' Top 10 Heat Pump Questions" list? 

1. How can I tell if my home has a heat pump or an air conditioner?

A heat pump and air conditioner can look nearly identical. However, there is a simple way to determine if you have a heat pump. 

  1. Turn the “heat” ON at your thermostat or control system. 
  2. Once you feel the heated air coming from your return vent, go outside to the metal cabinet. 
  3. If it is operating and you don’t pay a gas or propane bill – Congratulations! You most likely have a heat pump!

2. When should I schedule heat pump maintenance? 

Your heat pump was designed to provide both heating and cooling for home. That means you may depend on it all year long! As a result, it’s a good idea to schedule a cooling maintenance service in the spring and a heating checkup in the fall.

Seasonal preventive maintenance on heat pump system may guard against unexpected failures and possibly maximize its lifespan.1 So, if you have determined that you have a heat pump (see #1), be sure to schedule  pre-season maintenance.

3. Which is better, a heat pump or an air conditioner?

Both the heat pump and air conditioner are designed to use the refrigeration cycle to cool your home. To determine if one provides better cooling performance over another, you have to be sure you compare identically sized equipment with the same cooling features and efficiency ratings.

But if your home needs an electric heat source, a heat pump can keep you warm too. Your air conditioner is designed just to keep your home cool!

4. Why isn’t the temperature in my home consistent?

When a heat pump is installed, it should be specifically sized for your home according to a set of unique calculations. If your heat pump is the wrong size for your home, it may not operate as designed. Oversized units may create bursts of warm or cold air, tricking thermostats or control systems into shutting off the system before the entire house reaches the desired temperature. An undersized heat pump may not be able to generate the cooling capacity required for your space. If your heat pump is the wrong size for your home, it may not provide the indoor comfortable you expect.

If your heat pump is not performing as you expect, contact your licensed professional HVAC dealer for an inspection to determine a solution for your heating or cooling concerns.

5. How long will my heat pump last?

There are many factors that contribute to a heat pump’s lifespan and overall performance — maintenance schedule, how often filters are changed and proper installation are just a few. Location and operational hours may also impact the longevity of a heat pump. For example, if you live in an area with long, cold winters, a heat pump will run more than in temperate climates. The same goes for warmer climates.

If you are looking for some heat pump peace-of-mind , be sure your installation technician provides a limited warranty for their work  and is qualified, experienced and recommended by a trusted source.  Research the manufacturer’s available limited warranties, registration requirements and coverages for your specific heat pump. 

6. Should I manually turn ON my thermostat’s emergency or auxiliary heat switch if the temperature falls below freezing?

As long as you are comfortable in your home, you do not need to manually switch on your heat pump’s auxiliary or emergency heat switch on your thermostat or control system.  The auxiliary heat is designed to turn on automatically if the heat pump needs additional heating capacity to meet your set temperature.  If you find that you continually need additional warmth in your home, contact your local, licensed professional HVAC dealer for a consultation.

7. Should I cover my heat pump during the winter to protect it?

DO NOT cover your heat pump in the winter! A heat pump is designed to operate during the cold weather. To function properly, it needs to pull in the outdoor air through the side vents and exhaust through the top of the unit. Your heat pump may not operate as designed if you cover it during the winter it, potentially causing damage to the system.

8. Is it normal for my heat pump to have frost on it?

The outside  of your heat pump may develop a coating of frost or light ice when it’s cold outside. Don’t be alarmed! When this happens, the heat pump’s defrost control sensor automatically starts a defrost cycle. During this period the auxiliary heat strips are automatically activated to warm the indoor air.

However, if you notice a heavy coating of ice, contact your licensed professional HVAC dealer as soon as possible. Heavy ice accumulation may indicate that your heat pump needs servicing.

9. What’s the difference between SEER and HSPF on a heat pump?

A heat pump’s energy efficiency is rated by SEER and HSPF numbers.  The SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) measures the efficiency of a heat pump in cooling mode.  HSPF (Heating Season Performance Factor) measures the efficiency of a heat pump in heating mode. The higher the SEER and HSPF number, the more efficient the unit is designed to be in heating and cooling mode.

10. Why are some rooms colder or warmer than others?

The answer may have something to do with #4! During installation, your HVAC dealer should have properly sized your new heat pump for your specific home.  If it’s not sized correctly, a heat pump may either shut off before the entire house reaches the desired temperature or not be able to generate the capacity required for your space.

But if your heat pump is sized properly to your home, there may be an air duct issue. A poorly designed air duct system may results in poor airflow, leaving some rooms colder or warmer than others.  If your ducts aren’t sealed properly, or an air leak goes undetected, airflow may pass through your system unevenly. To properly determine the specific cause of a warm or cold room, contact your licensed professional HVAC dealer.

Amana brand heat pumps

1 Maintaining your Air Conditioner. n.d. <http://energy.gov/energysaver/maintaining-your-air-conditioner>.