Is Something Wrong with My Heat Pump?

Because they work best at and above 20 degrees Fahrenheit, heat pumps are one of the most efficient ways to heat and cool homes in the South, where harsh winter temperatures rarely dip below that optimal 20 degrees. But they come with a few quirks that can surprise new and seasoned homeowners alike. Here are a few common concerns to consider before you call for service.

MY HEATER SMELLS BAD WHEN I FIRST TURN IT ON

Anyone who has had a heat pump for a few years has probably experienced a musty smell after turning on the heat for the first time each winter. It’s 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 months your heater isn’t in use, dust can accumulate on the heating elements, and when you turn the heater on for the first time, 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, and likely won’t return until the same time next year.

THERE’S STEAM POURING OUT OF MY OUTSIDE UNIT

If you notice that the fan on your outdoor unit has stopped running, or the unit is making strange noises and emitting what looks like smoke, you might wonder if some major problem has befallen your outdoor unit, putting your indoor comfort at risk.

The good news is that this is most likely a natural and beneficial cycle – and that “smoke” is just steam. Your unit is going into defrost mode, which happens often during heating season. When the outdoor coils begin to ice up during the winter, your unit will sense that it is losing efficiency and is programmed to regularly defrost itself to ensure it is performing at its peak at all times.

When your unit goes into defrost, 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 your unit is constantly going into defrost, this could be a sign of a bigger problem, and it is recommended you call an HVAC expert to take a look.

IT FEELS LIKE COLD AIR IS COMING FROM MY VENTS

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 why, the good news is that there is likely nothing wrong with your unit.

A heat pump puts out cooler air than a traditional gas or oilfurnace, which many people are used to. While furnaces may produce about 130- to 140-degree air, a heat pump (running without supplemental backup heat) 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 – 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, 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 will feel warm again.

WHAT IF I HAVE PROBLEMS WITH MY HEAT PUMP?

Of course, it’s possible that there really is a problem behind that funny smell, that actually is smoke billowing from the unit, or it really does pump out cold air!

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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