Heating & Cooling

Maintaining & Servicing Your Heat Pump: The Complete Guide

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I’ve been learning about maintaining and servicing my heat pump and thought I’d put together a complete guide covering everything you need to know. But, how do you maintain and service a heat pump? 

Heat pumps need both routine and annual maintenance. The heat pump air filter should be replaced every 30 to 90 days to prevent dirt and debris buildup inside your ductwork. The heat pump coils need to be cleaned once a year, twice a year in some cases. A full annual service including checking gas levels, fans, and other components is recommended, ideally in the Spring.

Now that you have a general outline, I’ll cover exactly how to service your heat pump. Whether you’ve done it a few times or you’ve never done it before. This guide will cover everything you need to know.

How Often Should Heat Pumps Be Serviced? 

According to Beaufort Air Conditioning and Arista, if it’s your primary way of heating and cooling your home, a heat pump should be serviced twice a year by an HVAC professional. Otherwise, it should be serviced once a year. 

It’s said that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. The routine servicing costs incurred can help your heat pump last much longer than without. Servicing it regularly enough can identify minor problems before they cause strain on critical parts of your heat pump, damaging your system.

If you notice any unusual noises coming from your heat pump, then you’ll want to get it looked at as soon as possible. You can also read through the owner’s manual and company website for your heat pump to see if they have any instructions on how to fix it yourself. Message boards are also a helpful resource as many HVAC techs love to hang out and talk shop on these sites and offer a wealth of knowledge, tricks, and tips.

There is also a range of preventative steps you can take to limit your heat pump issues, which I’ll include in the guide. So, without further adieu, here’s the complete guide.

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Steps to Maintain and Service Your Heat Pump

First off, you don’t want to run your heat pump below 70 °F (21 °C), and above 65 °F (18 °C), because it puts more strain on your machine.

Now, onto the steps:

  • Check the air filters once a month.
  • Clear away any debris from in and around your heat pump
  • Keep at least 18 inches (45 cm) of space around your heat pump. For example, trim back shrubs around your outdoor cabinet.
  • Flush the condensate lines in the Spring to remove clogs and ensure condensation drains correctly from the heat pump.
  • Have a professional clean the internal evaporator and condensing coils.
  • Service and clean the fans if needed.

I’ll explain how to do each of these steps. And some general tips to give your heat pump a longer life and how to run it as efficiently as possible.

Check the Air Filters Every 30 Days.

You’ll want to check the state of your air filters somewhat regularly. If you have pets or have recently done a renovation, then you’ll need to clean them more often.

There are many different heat pump styles, so I’ll explain the broad steps to give you a good idea of what’s involved. The best way to see exactly how to do it is to read your user manual. If your heat pump doesn’t have a user manual, it’s a good idea to get a technician.

As you’re probably aware, a heat pump has two parts: the indoor unit (air handler) is typically located in a closet, attic, or basement. The indoor unit is relatively easy to open. It’s also pretty easy to pull out the air filter to clean it.

But, an outdoor cabinet can require tools and detailed instructions to open.

Heat pumps can cost upwards of $10,000 to replace, so unless you’re an experienced technician, I don’t recommend trying to open up and servicing your heat pump on your own. Call in a professional to handle this for you.

If you’re a DIYer and want to learn and don’t have an owner’s manual or are unsure, one option is to have an experienced technician do it the first time and watch them see how it’s done.

Once you’ve removed your air filters, replace disposable filters as needed every 30 to 90 days. If you have a washable filter, the easiest way to wash it is in warm soapy water. The warm soapy water softens the dust and debris making it easy to remove. 

Be sure to clean them gently so as not to damage the fine filter mesh. Once that’s done, rinse the filter off and leave it somewhere to dry.

Once you’re familiar with the process, it should take around 30 minutes from start to finish.

There is a range of different filters that come with HVAC systems, and not all of them are washable. So, it’s essential to check what kind of filters your heat pump has before cleaning them. The most common air filters are disposable ones. 

But, the outdoor cabinet can have a range of different filters. As you may be aware, a HEPA filter removes the most particles from the air and is considered one of the best air filters on the market.

You can wash and vacuum these filters to clean them. But, it has been shown by Smartairfilters, who performed a range of tests, that washing and vacuuming HEPA filters don’t have much effect and only improve performance by 15% on the high end.

On top of that, they showed that it could decrease the performance of your air filters. So, a better idea is to replace HEPA filters. According to US Home Filter, a general rule is to replace heat pump filters every three months.

You’ll need to order replacements for your specific filters from the manufacturer. And then follow the user guide or instructions from the manufacturer about how to replace them. 

It can be a bit time-consuming and tricky. So, having a technician handle everything can be a good idea.

Clear Debris From In and Around Your Heat Pump

This step is usually only for heat pumps located outside or installed in a wall where part of the heat pump is outside. Over time spider webs, leaves, twigs, or debris can accumulate around your heat pump.

Now and then, you’ll want to remove any debris and clear away any spider webs. Both can block the airflow into your heat pump, which puts more strain on the fan.

If you live in a windy city, or you’ve had a lot of wind recently, more debris – like plastic bags or pieces of paper – tend to make their way onto your heat pump. So, you’ll want to check it more often.

Clear 18 inches of Space Around Your Heat Pump.

Ideally, your heat pump will be located where trees and shrubs can’t grow into them. But, over time, hedges, shrubs, or trees can grow to the point where they get too close to your heat pump and make it harder for your heat pump to draw in air.

So, you’ll want to trim back any plants that are growing too close to it. You might also have some runner weeds that pop up and have used your heat pump as a trellis. You’ll want to keep these under control by pulling them out of the ground or cutting them near the roots.

Also, a family member, such as one of your children or a friend, might put objects around your heat pump. So, you’ll want to move these to make sure your heat pump is getting enough airflow.

Flush the Indoor Condensate Lines in the Spring

This step is a bit technical, and you may want to have a contractor do it for you. It involves using an air compressor or a wet and dry vac to clear your condensate lines. 

Typically, this isn’t an issue. But, it does happen occasionally, and you’ll want to check to see if it’s a problem every month or so. 

What it looks like when it’s an issue

As part of the cooling process, condensation forms within your heat pump. The water drains out along pipes and drips out while your heat pump is running. 

They can get clogged with the build of algae in the pipes. If your condensate lines get clogged, then the water backs up into your heat pump, and you’ll notice a puddle underneath your heat pump.

To clear them out, you’ll want to look at your user manual or some videos online for your specific model because each model has a slightly different configuration and opening. 

The general method is to blow compressed air through the pipe to blast it loose or use a wet and dry vac to suck it out.

The issue is, you’ll need to be careful not to use too much pressure; otherwise, you might damage your heat pump. If you’re unsure, it’s best to get a contractor to do it.

Clean the Evaporator and Condenser Coils

There are two separate coils in heat pumps; evaporator coils and condenser coils. US Home Filter explains that evaporator coils are located in your outdoor cabinet, and the evaporator coils are located in your indoor unit.

Over time, dust accumulates on them, and they don’t function as well, which puts a strain on other parts of your heat pump.

To clean them, you’ll want to locate them using your user manual or by looking at some diagrams of heat pumps online to find a model that’s similar to yours. 

The good news is, they’re very easy to clean. You can use compressed air or a soft brush – like the brush that comes with a dustpan. You can use the brush on its own or together with a mild detergent and water.

If the gunk is built up, you’ll want to consult an HVAC contractor because you’ll usually need to take some of the components apart to access it.

Clean the blower wheel (the fan)

According to Gary’s Heating and Air Conditioning, this only needs to get done every 2 to 4 years. And it’s best to have a technician do it as it involves removing the fan from the machine. Once the fan’s removed, it’s very easy to clean with a brush and soapy water.

You’ll then need to reinstall it.

Do a Full Service Once a Year.

You can perform all of the steps above on your own, except for flushing the condensate lines and cleaning the blower wheel – unless you’re an electrician, handyman, or have similar experience or hobbies.

But, in the opinion of Beaufort Air Conditioning, you’ll also want to do service once a year, where each part of your heat pump is checked and fine-tuned.

Full service includes inspecting and fixing.

  • Duct leakages
  • The electronic components such as wiring and the computer
  • The start-stop sequence
  • The motors and belts
  • The thermostat
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Operating Tips For Maintaining Your Heat Pump

While maintaining your heat pump extends its life and makes it use less electricity. You can also operate to use it most efficiently and reduce wear and tear. You should:

Use the ‘AUTO’ Setting When Running Your Heat Pump

When turned on heat or cool mode, your heat pump will blow out hot or cold air at a constant rate regardless of your room temperature. 

But, on the auto setting will detect the air temperature and turn itself off when it gets to the temperature you set it to. It also turns itself back on once the temperature gets above or below what you’ve set it to. 

In short, ‘Auto’ mode means your heat pump isn’t turned on as much, and the components will last longer.

Keep the Area Around Your Air Return Unobstructed

When there are objects close to your air return, such as home theater speakers or the branches of a pot plant – it can have a hard time blowing and circulating air. 

Which will mean it takes longer to heat and cool the air in your home, and the temperature in your home will be uneven. For example, it will be hot near the vents but cool in the rest of the room.

Because it takes longer to heat and cool your home, your heat pump will need to be on more time, which uses more electricity and increases the wear and tear on your heat pump.

Now, this is everything you need to know about maintaining and servicing your heat pump.

But, no doubt this has raised more questions. So, below I’ll answer the most common questions that come up about maintaining and servicing your heat pump.

How Much Does It Cost to Service a Heat Pump?

According to Home Advisorheat pump service can cost between $156 to $590, depending on many factors. According to Simpson Heating and Air Conditioning, replacement parts can cost around $200 to $300. 

Significant parts can be more expensive. For example, the compressor and the blower motor can range from $900 to $1500.

How Do You Know When To Service Your Heat Pump?

If your heat pump isn’t heating or cooling your home as well as it used to, then it’s a clear sign you need to service your heat pump. Also, if you notice any unusual noises coming from your heat pump, such as knocking or vibrations, then you should service your heat pump.

Beaufort Air Conditioning and Arista also recommend servicing your heat pump once a year. So, if it’s been over a year since your last service or since you bought it, then it’s a good idea to get your heat pump services.

Should a Heat Pump Run All Night?

You can run a heat pump all night, but you’ll want to make sure it’s set to ‘AUTO’ rather than ‘ON.’ When it’s set ‘ON,’ the blower fan will run continuously, whether your home is hot or cold enough. On ‘AUTO,’ it will turn itself off when your home reaches the desired temperature.

The good thing about leaving your heat pump on all night is it will maintain the same temperature for the whole night, unlike a wood-burning fireplace which will burn out in the middle of the night or be hazardous to your health and safety. 

It’s also really good to leave your heat pump on ‘AUTO’ in the summertime when you’re using it to cool your home because it can get chilly in the middle of the night in some regions, especially right before dawn.

As you may be aware, a geothermal heat pump is even more energy efficient than an air heat pump and has a longer life. They also cost about the same. I recently explained the differences between them and why a geothermal heat pump is better in the article, Heat Pump vs. Geothermal Systems: Which is Best?

What’s the Ideal Temp To Set Your Heat Pump in Winter?

You should set your heat pump around room temperature in the winter to be most comfortable, 68 to 72 °F (20 to 22 °C). Heating your home by turning the temperature right up, and leaving it on, is not a good way to run your heat pump because it increases wear and tear and energy costs.

It can be tempting to turn up to full and blast your house, but give it a bit of time to work, and in no time, you’ll be comfortable.

You also won’t turn it off at the optimum time because you don’t usually notice your room is warm enough until it’s too hot. The best way to run it is to switch it on ‘AUTO’ and set the temperature below 70 °F (21 °C). 

What’s the Ideal Temp To Set Your Heat Pump in Summer?

In the summer, you shouldn’t run the thermostat below 65 °F (18 °C). Like most people, I love to come into an air-conditioned space when it’s scorching hot outside. But, below 65 °F is uncomfortably cold, and you’ll soon be too cold. It also increases wear and tear on your heat pump and energy costs.

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Why Is My Heat Pump Bill So High?

Your heat pump bill can be high because you used it a lot. It’s set to ‘ON’ rather than ‘AUTO,’ you are using Emergency Heat (Auxillary Heat), or because it needs a service. If some of the components in your heat pump are covered in dust, they need to do more work to produce the same amount of heating and cooling, and as a result, draw more electricity. 

When your heat pump is set to ‘ON,’ the blower fan will run continuously and use more electricity. Setting it to ‘AUTO’ will reduce how much electricity you use because it will turn itself off when it gets to the temperature you set.

If it’s winter and cold outside, your heat pump is likely using emergency heat to try and keep up. Emergency heat is the most expensive way of heat your home.

Can I Replace My Heat Pump Myself?

Technically you can replace your heat pump yourself. But, it may not meet the building standards in your state. There may be ways around it, such as getting it inspected. But, it’s best to look into your local laws to see what building standards apply in your local jurisdiction.

Installing a heat pump should be left to the professionals. It can be done if you’re a technically minded person with some handyman skills, but it is not a one-person job and requires a lot of technical skill and training. 

A resource that explains how to replace a heat pump yourself is this article by One Project Closer.

Why Is My Heat Pump Blowing Cold Air?

There can be a fault with your heat pump, or it can be in defrost mode. Defrost mode turns on when your outdoor cabinet has ice, snow, or frost on it. When this is the case, your heat pump will defrost itself, and as a result, will intermittently blow cold air, even when it’s warming your home.

If you don’t think that the temperature is cold enough outside for ice to form on your heat pump, or your heat pump keeps blowing cold air for a long time, then you’ll want to have a technician take a look at it.

Well, there you have it, the complete guide to maintaining and servicing your heat pump. Below, I’ll sum up the main points.

In Conclusion

Maintaining and servicing your heat pump involves a range of steps that you’ll want to keep on top of to increase your heat pump’s life and keep it running efficiently. Ideally, you’ll want to get your heat pump serviced once a year. 

You can do some parts of the service yourself, but others require specialized skills and knowledge. 

Checking, cleaning, and replacing the air filters and keeping the space around your heat pump clear of objects and debris can quickly be done yourself.

But, flushing the condensate lines and cleaning the fans typically requires a contractor.

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Hubert Miles

I've been conducting professional home inspections since 2002. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Professional Inspector (CPI), Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and FHA 203k Consultant. I started HomeInspectionInsider.com to help people better understand the home inspection process and answer questions about homeownership and home maintenance.
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