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What to Do When Your Heat Pump Is Frozen

Hands installing a new HVAC system

Have you ever had your heat pump freeze up completely? It’s not a highly uncommon occurrence here in St. Charles (if you’re not keeping up with proper heat pump maintenance)! Luckily, the issue can be easy to spot, and in most cases, easy to handle as well! Trust the specialists at Jerry Kelly Heating & Air Conditioning to bring you the answers you need!

What Do We Mean “Freeze Up?”

It’s not unusual for a thin layer of frost to develop on your heat pump, but when we say freeze up we’re specifically referring to your entire unit frozen over or the coil freezing over until inoperable. This can be caused by various issues, some simple, and some complex. We’ll get to that.

How can you tell the difference between a harmless layer of frost and a serious issue? Easy:

  • Any amount of frost or ice should be addressed within a reasonable time frame (a few days, or after a bad storm/freezing rain).
  • If your unit is entirely frozen over, it’s time to call in a professional.
  • If the fan of your outdoor unit refuses to operate, or operates sporadically in the winter months, odds are you’re dealing with a freeze.

What Causes a Heat Pump Freeze?

Quite a few situations can lead to a freeze of your unit, coil or fan, including:

  • Defrosting failure. A properly operating heat pump will occasionally go into a defrost mode to clear the coils of frost and ice. This process usually kicks in by way of a timer or sensor, and defrosting takes roughly a few minutes. If this system fails to operate then your heat pump will continue to ice up until failure.
  • Restricted air flow. Leaves, plant matter, debris, and even snow can build up to the point of clogging your heat pump, eventually leading to a freeze up. The clog can occur at the outdoor unit, in vents or at the filter for your system.
  • Introduction to freezing water. An odd and elusive cause can actually be your roof or gutters, if something has gone amiss up top. Leaking gutters or poorly diverted water from the roof can drip down to the pump, introducing large amounts of water that will freeze rapidly.
  • Disrepair. Things normally handled by regular maintenance can cause freezes including: Inadequate or excessive refrigerant, a failing blower motor or faulty sensors.

What To Do In The Event Of A Frozen Heat Pump

The most important factor when dealing with a frozen pump is to act fast. When faced with a frozen heat pump:

  • Immediately turn off your heat pump. If it continues to attempt to operate it can seriously damage itself. Additionally, you don’t want it suddenly kicking back to life while you attempt to resolve the issue.
  • Check for simple causes such as a clogged air filter, or extreme amounts of plant matter or snow on the exterior unit.
  • If ice is present on the interior coils, carefully attempt to remove the ice. Do not use sharp or heavy tools to attempt this. If it doesn’t come off with a brush, call a professional.
  • If the cause isn’t immediately evident, contact an HVAC specialist. The problem likely lies with components or a failing sensor, and in either case it will need to be repaired by an expert!