3 Common Heat Pump Concerns – And What’s Really Happening

 In Staying Warm, System Maintenance, Winter Topics

There’s nothing better than stepping into a nice, warm house during the chilly winter months. For many people in North Florida, that cozy atmosphere is due to an important component of their heating and cooling system: the heat pump. Heat pumps are great for the southern climate because they work best at and above 20 degrees Fahrenheit. They do, however, have a few quirks that can cause concern if you’re not familiar with how they function. If you notice something unusual happening with your heat pump and aren’t sure whether to call for maintenance, there may be a simple explanation that does not require professional intervention. Here are three of the most common heat pump concerns and what’s really happening with your unit.

Concern #1: You notice cool air coming from the vents – but the heat is running.

When you turn on the heat, you expect to feel just that – heat! If you stand in front of the vent and the air seems to be cool, it’s natural to assume that the system is not working. Noticing cool air is one of the most common heat pump concerns, but there is a simple explanation. In reality, the cool air you’re noticing has more to do with you than it does your heat pump.

You see, for most people, a normal body temperature tends to hover around 98.6 degrees. When you are feeling heat from a traditional furnace, which tends to produce heated air around 130 or 140 degrees, that air feels undoubtedly warm when it’s coming from a vent. Heat pumps, on the other hand, produce heated air that’s closer to 92 degrees. While this is sufficiently warm to heat the air in your house to the ideal temperature, it might feel slightly cooler than your natural body temperature. As a result, the air feels cool to you, even though it is warming your home, and the heat pump is working just fine.

Concern #2: You notice a bad smell when you turn on the heat.

It’s a common experience: You’ve decided that it’s cold enough outside to turn the heat on. If it’s the first time you’ve used your system this winter, you might experience some unpleasant odors after turning it on. It might smell musty, or like something is burning. Is your system malfunctioning? Is something on fire? These odors, for good reason, are one of the most common heat pump concerns for homeowners.

Don’t worry, though – in most cases, your system is totally fine. The reason that you smell something burning is because there is a buildup of dust and other pollution that has been sitting in your system since the last time you ran it. When you turn it on for the first time in the winter, that dust needs to burn up. But it’s not a fire hazard, or a safety concern for anyone inside your house. The dust should burn up and the smell should go away within 45 minutes.

If anything, the burning smell means that your system is doing what it’s supposed to be doing – efficiently creating heat to warm your home. It just needs to burn up the extra dust first.

Concern #3: You notice steam coming from your unit outside.

Uh, oh – you just walked outside and noticed what looks like steam or smoke pouring out of your outdoor unit. It might be making unusual noises, as well. It’s normal to have some heat pump concerns when you notice something like this, especially when you don’t know what’s causing it.

Thankfully, seeing this happen periodically means that your system is doing exactly what it was programmed to do: defrost! During the winter, it’s common for your outdoor coils to begin to build up ice, which can decrease efficiency. Your heating and cooling system is smart and knows to build up extra heat to melt that ice, creating visible steam. It will even shift temporarily into air conditioning mode to assist with the coil defrosting process. Pretty cool right?

Rest assured, this is part of the normal heating and cooling process and will not affect the temperature in your home. It should be an occasional thing that happens, however, so if you notice it happening all the time, it might be worth a quick call to your service technician.

Of course, even if you believe there could be an explanation, it’s never a bad thing to call in for backup when you have heat pump concerns. Sometimes unusual sounds, smells and sights from your HVAC unit are actually signs of a bigger problem. Scheduling annual inspections is the easiest way to make sure your heat pump is working correctly, and is a good time to ask any questions you may have.

At Barineau Heating and Air Conditioning, we make annual maintenance stress-free so you can worry about more important things. Join our Total Comfort Service Program to get annual inspections, a discount on repairs, same-day service and more.

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