It’s pretty common to walk outside during the winter and find ice on your heat pump. At first, it may seem like a problem you need to address. After all, you don’t want your heat source freezing over while it’s warming your house. In reality, however, you may not have to worry about it. Here is what ice along your heat pump usually means.
A heat pump works by absorbing the thermal energy from the air around it. This thermal energy is then directed inside to heat and circulate air to the house. Condensation forms on the outside unit as a side effect of this thermal absorption. The sub-freezing environment then causes that condensation to freeze, forming frost on the outside of the heat pump.
Heat pumps were designed to combat this condition by going through a defrost cycle every so often. A heat pump in heating mode will periodically reverse the flow of refrigerant, causing the outside unit to heat up and melt the frost around it. Therefore, there is no reason to worry about a little ice on your heat pump. If the heat pump is operating properly, it will take care of this issue on its own.
There are cases where ice and frost can become a problem, however. If the defrost cycle doesn’t occur for whatever reason, ice will continue to build up around the outside unit. The more ice accumulates, the more air is cut off from the unit. This can drastically lessen the available thermal energy for the unit to absorb. If the ice and frost covers enough of the unit, it may stop absorbing heat altogether. If you happen to see ice on your heat pump, wait an hour or two and then check again. If the ice is gone or there is less of it, that’s a sign that your heat pump defrost cycle is working properly. If there is more ice or it doesn’t seem to be going away, you may have a problem with your heat pump. When that happens, call a professional.