Normal or Not? Heat Pump Problems

Heat pumps are an exceptionally energy efficient and convenient way to heat and cool your home. But, even with their many benefits, heat pumps can encounter their fair share of problems as well. Here’s a guide to the ins and outs of your heat pump system, and how you can spot signs of common issues.

How does a heat pump work?

Heat pumps do not generate heat. Instead, they move heat from one place to another—like from the air outside into your home. This is an effective method of both cooling and heating. Even in cold temperatures, there is still heat in the outdoor air. In the winter, a heat pump uses refrigerant to extract this heat. The journey begins in the compressor, or outdoor unit, where once the refrigerant reaches the indoor unit, cool air is blown over the heat exchanger to remove thermal energy from the refrigerant. This thermal energy then enters your home as comfortable heat.

In the cooling season, this process is reversed. Instead of moving heat indoors, the heat pump sends indoor heat outdoors. An air-source heat pump is the most common type of heat pump, and is best suited for warmer climates. The efficiency and performance of a heat pump can depend on several factors, including variable blower speeds. Choosing a blower speed may come down to cost or energy efficiency, depending on your priorities.

Single speed

This blower motor comes with one speed. It’s the least expensive, but also least efficient, option.


This blower can utilize low, medium, and high speeds. It’s a moderately priced option.

Variable speed

This blower automatically adjusts its speed based on the temperature you set in your home. With this advanced feature, it’s the most expensive blower option, but also the most efficient.

Signs of problems

As a homeowner, it’s important to be vigilant when it comes to your HVAC equipment. Spotting a problem early could be the difference between a quick fix and a major headache. Here are some things to look out for that could indicate that problems are present in your heat pump system.

Strange noises

Heat pumps aren’t silent all the time, and some noises are perfectly normal. On the other hand, some noises are signs of trouble. If your heat pump starts making any of the following noises, it’s time to call a profressional.

  • Loud banging sounds
  • Gurgling or hissing
  • Loud buzzing (a low hum is normal)
  • High-pitched shrieking or whistling
  • Grinding noises

Short cycling

If your heat pump turns on, then off, and then back on again in an endless loop, you’re experiencing short cycling. Thermostat problems are one of the most common causes of short cycling. Start by making sure your thermostat is working properly. Your thermostat serves as the command center for your heat pump, and if it’s sending the wrong signals then the heat pump won’t operate correctly. Check that your thermostat’s don’t need to be replaced, and that there aren’t any loose wires or screws around it. If all else fails, you can reset your thermostat via your home’s circuit breaker.

To reset the circuit breaker, look inside the breaker box and find the one labeled heat pump or HVAC. If it’s been turned from on to a neutral position, reset the circuit by turning it off and then back on. Make sure to wait 30 minutes before trying to turn your thermostat on, to avoid tripping the circuit breaker again.

If the breaker trips again, a larger electrical problem may be present. For your safety, don’t turn it back on. A tripped breaker is your home’s way of protecting your appliances and electrical equipment when voltage is too high. Depending on the cause, you may need to work with an electrician or HVAC professional to get your thermostat and heat pump system back to powering on correctly.

Lack of heating/cooling

First, check to make sure your thermostat is on and set to the correct temperature. Then, make sure your vent cover is open and unblocked so that it can circulate air effectively. If neither of these fixes solve your heat pump problem, a dirty fan or coils could be keeping the system from doing its job. It’s best to have a profressional clean these components to avoid causing any unnecessary damage. As part of our thorough 26-point maintenance plan, we inspect and clean fans and coils to ensure that dust, dirt, and debris don’t get in the way of your heat pump’s performance.

How to get the most out of your heat pump system

A heat pump system is a major investment. So, it’s important to get your money’s worth and keep the system working at its best. With a few simple steps, you can get the most out of your heat pump system.

1. Keep the filter clean

The filter on your indoor unit is designed to keep dust and debris from reaching the system’s essential inner components. It also keeps airborne contaminants from polluting the air in your home. If the filter is clogged, or installed incorrectly, the whole system’s efficiency diminishes. A less efficient system means higher operating costs, and a higher probability that the system will suffer a premature breakdown. We recommend that you inspect the filter monthly and replace it if it looks dirty. Consult your owner’s manual if you can’t locate the filter on your indoor unit.

2. Keep the outdoor unit clean

Keep plants, grass, leaves, and other debris from restricting air flow in and out of the unit. Any obstructions could impair the unit’s efficiency. If the exterior coils become clogged or dirty with dust, you can use a vacuum to clean them. If the coils are excessively dirty you can wash them with a garden hose, but make sure and turn the main disconnect switch off before you do.

Chas Roberts: Your heat pump experts

Whether you’re in the market for a heat pump system or need service on your current one, we’re here to help. Contact us for all your heat pump questions.