Signs There Might Be Something Wrong with Your Heat Pump

A heat pump is part of a home heating and cooling system installed outside the home. Similar to central air systems, heat pumps can cool your home and provide heat. They work best at temperatures above 20 degrees, meaning they are perfect for milder climates where the temperature rarely drops below freezing.

While heat pumps are a great solution for homes in the South, they do have a few quirks that might surprise new and seasoned homeowners alike. Is your unit doing something weird? If you’re experiencing one of the following problems, it might just be the way your heat pump was intended to work!


My Heater Smells Bad When I First Turn it On

Anyone who owns a heat pump has probably experienced a musty or burning smell after turning on the heat for the first time each winter. It’s also possible that you’ve gotten used to the smell, and haven’t associated it with a system failure of any sort. But have you ever wondered why it smells that way?

During the summer months when your heater isn’t in use, dust can accumulate on the heating elements. When you turn the heater on for the first time in a while, the dust burns up and creates an unpleasant odor. But don’t worry – the smell is perfectly normal and harmless. It will usually only last about 30 to 45 minutes before fading away, and likely won’t return until the same time next year.


Steam is Coming Out of My Outside Unit

If you notice the fan on your outdoor unit has stopped running, or the unit is making strange noises and emitting what looks like smoke, it would be easy to immediately assume you have a major problem on your hands.

The good news is that this is most likely a natural and beneficial cycle – and the “smoke” is just steam. If this is the case, your unit is likely going into defrost mode, which sometimes happens when the heater runs for a long period because of very cold weather. Occasionally, the outdoor coils begin to ice up during the winter. When this happens, your unit will sense that it is losing efficiency and is programmed to regularly defrost itself to ensure it is performing at its peak.

When your unit goes into defrost mode, it will shut down the outdoor fan to build up extra heat and help melt the ice. It also shifts from heating mode to air conditioning mode, allowing the hot refrigerant to pass through the coils and accomplish the necessary defrosting. At the same time, the extra heat is energized to balance the otherwise cold air that would blow into your house.

While it may seem a little strange that your unit runs air conditioning and heating at the same time, it usually lasts for just a few minutes and only happens when needed. However, if the unit is constantly going into defrost mode, this could be a sign of a bigger problem, and you should schedule an appointment for an HVAC technician to look at your unit.


Cold Air Is Coming From My Vents When It’s Cold Outside

Have you ever noticed that even when it’s cold outside and your heat pump is running, it seems to be blowing cold air into your house? While there are a few possible reasons for why this is happening, there is likely nothing wrong with your unit.

A heat pump puts out cooler air than a traditional gas or oil furnace, which many people are accustomed to. While furnaces may produce about 130- to 140-degree air, a heat pump on its own might only produce about 92-degree air–depending on surrounding conditions.

Because this is slightly below your normal body temperature of 98.6 degrees, the air from the heat pump feels cool on your skin – but it is still warmer than the air in the room and is definitely heating your home.

The more the outside temperature drops, the cooler the air from a heat pump will feel. This is because the heat pump is having difficulty pulling heat from the outside air. Usually, when the outside temperature drops below 40 degrees, an auxiliary heating coil will fire up in your system, and the air inside will feel warm again.


What If I Have Problems with My Heat Pump?

While there is usually a simple reason for why your heat pump is acting strange, sometimes there is actually a serious problem that needs to be addressed. If your heater smells bad for multiple hours or days (or multiple times in one season). if smoke continues to come out of your unit outside of defrost mode or if your unit is actually pumping cold air into the house, you should consult an HVAC professional.

If you’re still worried, or just not sure, contact Barineau Heating and Air Conditioning to set up an inspection or give us a call at 850-580-4029. We guarantee to keep your unit running in top shape and help prevent problems before they happen.

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