Maximizing Efficiency By Maintaining Your Heat Pump

Heat pumps provide efficient cooling and can also be an efficient way to heat a home. However, how efficiently a heat pump system works depends on whether it is properly maintained. Heat pump systems work most efficiently when well maintained, and their efficiency will quickly decrease when not tuned-up regularly.

How Often Should a Heat Pump Be Serviced?

If you have a traditional heating and cooling system, experts suggest having your air conditioner and heater serviced once a year. Most homeowners hire an HVAC technician to tune up their heater in the fall and their air conditioner in the spring. Alternatively, since a heat pump provides heating and cooling year-round, it needs to be tuned up twice a year, also in the spring and fall.

The Importance of Regular Heat Pump Maintenance

While maintenance is important for all HVAC systems, it is essential for heat pumps. They are highly efficient but can also be more prone to issues that prevent them from heating and cooling effectively. The reason for this is simple: heat pumps run for many more hours each year compared to separate heating and cooling systems.

Furnaces and traditional air conditioners usually have a lifespan of around 15 years. Despite getting more use, a properly maintained heat pump can also last for 15 years or more. However, heat pumps that aren’t maintained regularly will often give out after only around 10 years, and some may not even last that long before needing to be replaced.

In addition, regular maintenance visits allow a HVAC technician to ensure your system is operating safely and identify and fix minor issues before they turn into major repairs or an emergency breakdown. For instance, a frayed fan belt could break and damage your heat pump’s internal components, or a motor could burn out due to a lack of lubrication.

Finally, failing to have your heat pump serviced regularly by a professional can void your warranty. Manufacturers usually stipulate that you have tune-ups as part of this agreement. An HVAC professional will document the work they performed after each visit. If your heat pump breaks down due to a defect, you can use this paperwork to prove you complied with the terms of the warranty and get a replacement.

How Maintenance Impacts a Heat Pump’s Efficiency

Heat pump systems are complicated and have numerous parts that all work together to provide heating and air conditioning. If a component starts to wear out or malfunction, this situation can cause it to operate well below its peak efficiency level.

On the other hand, you should not underestimate how much dirty components reduce a heat pump’s effectiveness. Heat pump systems are highly efficient because they transfer heat to keep your home comfortable and have an evaporator and condenser coil, just like traditional AC systems. The heat transfer process works naturally since heat energy always moves from a higher temperature area to a lower temperature area. When the refrigerant in the system is colder than the surrounding air, heat flows from the air into the refrigerant. When the refrigerant is hotter than the surrounding air, the heat then naturally flows back out of the refrigerant into the air.

In a traditional AC system, the evaporator coil is inside the building, and the condenser coil is outside in the AC compressor unit. This is also true when a heat pump system is cooling, but the two coils switch roles when the system is heating.

The role of an evaporator coil is always to capture or remove heat from the air blowing over it. When a heat pump is in cooling mode, the blower draws warmer air in from the home to flow over the coil. The cold refrigerant moving through the coil absorbs heat, causing the indoor air temperature to drop. This process causes the temperature of the refrigerant to increase, and the warm refrigerant is then pumped back outside, where it enters the condenser coil.

The purpose of the condenser coil is to allow the heat to flow out of the refrigerant so that it again cools down. As the compressor fan in the heat pump runs, it blows air over the coil. Since the refrigerant is hotter than the air flowing over it, the heat energy stored in the refrigerant is released into the air.

When operating in heating mode, this entire heat transfer process is reversed, and the refrigerant flows in an opposite direction. If either the interior or exterior coils are covered with dust, dirt, and grime, the system will cool or heat much more slowly. The reason is that dirt and dust essentially insulate the coil and act as a barrier that blocks the air from touching it. This limits how much heat the refrigerant can pull out of the air, which makes the system less effective.

The blower inside the home must also be clean, or it won’t move air nearly as effectively. All heat pumps need a specific volume of air continuously circulating to heat and cool efficiently. If the fan blades or housing around the blower become caked in dust and debris, the blower’s ability to circulate air will be reduced. This slows the system’s heating or cooling and also causes the blower to work harder and draw more power.

Another issue is that leaves and debris can get inside a heat pump or clog the unit’s air vents, reducing the system’s efficiency. If the airflow is obstructed, it will prevent the coil from capturing as much heat when the system is heating. Similarly, this issue will prevent the system from releasing as much heat when it is cooling.

All of these issues can reduce the energy efficiency of a heat pump by anywhere from 10-25% or more. This is why a technician will always fully clean the coil and blower inside when maintaining a heat pump system. They’ll also clean the coil in the outdoor heat pump unit and remove any debris. This will ensure the system has sufficient airflow and can capture and release heat effectively. Another essential task a professional performs is to check the refrigerant level. An undercharged or overcharged heat pump system won’t work nearly as well and will use far more energy.

While twice-yearly professional maintenance will keep your heat pump system working much more efficiently, it’s also essential that you change the system’s air filter regularly. Dirty air filters are extremely restrictive, which means very little air can flow through them. This issue leads to the system working overtime and causes it to use more energy. The best way to prevent air filter issues is to check the filter monthly and replace it at least every two to three months.

Contact the Professionals

For over twenty years, Black Lion Heating & Air Conditioning has provided expert heating, air conditioning, and electrical services to our customers in Kirkland, Monroe, and the Puget Sound area. Our technicians specialize in HVAC installation and can also service and repair every make and model of heat pump, furnace, or air conditioner. Contact us today to make an appointment with one of our experts.