Heat Pump Cleaning Tips to Prepare for a Winter Storm

How to clean and maintain your heat pump in extreme winter weather conditions.

Unlike a furnace or electric baseboard that warm your home by generating heat from the surrounding air, heat pumps work by transferring heat from one place to another, extracting warmth from the outdoors even in temperatures as low as -27°C. This makes heat pumps highly efficient, creating savings up to 60 percent for homeowners on home heating bills. However, in very cold weather, your heat pump may not be able to work as efficiently and a backup source of heat may be needed. Additionally, extreme winter weather conditions like freezing rain and blizzard conditions create snow and ice that can block the outdoor unit of your heat pump, further hindering the transfer of heat into your home or damaging your heat pump altogether if ignored.

Cleaning and maintaining your heat pump during a winter storm will keep you warmer and protect your heat pump from damage. Studies suggest that the overall lifespan of an air source heat pump hinges on two major factors:

  • the quality of the heat pump installation
  • how well the unit is maintained by the homeowner

To protect your heat pump during a winter storm and to maximize the efficient transfer of warmth into your home, follow these tips:

Install Your Heat Pump in a Protected Area

There are precautions you can take prior to installation that will allow you to avoid most winter maintenance issues. When you’re getting a heat pump installed with a certified Daikin dealer, choose a spot that won’t bear the brunt of harsh winter storms. We can expect snow drifts and icy conditions during the storm season, but only you know your house best: where does the snow tend to accumulate most? Where does water form into ice deposits? Additionally, your heat pump should be installed off of the ground so that it drains properly during all seasons.

Clear Away Snow from Your Heat Pump

Just as you would shovel your walkway or driveway, you want to ensure your heat pump is not buried under the snow. A heat pump blocked with snow will spend more energy melting the snow than heating your home. Although the outdoor compressor unit is mounted up off the ground, it is not unusual during storm season to see snow accumulation that high. After a storm, check the outdoor unit. Do not use a shovel to clear away the snow as you could damage the unit. Instead, gently clear away using a brush or a broom.

Remove Thick Ice from Your Heat Pump

It’s not uncommon to experience cycles of freeze/thaw during a winter storm, and when this happens, water can drip from the roof of your home onto the outdoor unit, creating a blockage. It is normal for frost or even a thin layer of ice to cover the heat pump, but if you notice more than that, turn off the heat pump and pour warm water over the top of it. Do not use a shovel or sharp objects to remove the ice because the refrigerant coils can be damaged in the process. If there is only a thin layer of ice, the heat pump will defrost itself. Defrost mode kicks in at 0 degrees and will continue for five to 15-minute intervals until the ice has melted. If the heat pump is not defrosting or is going into defrost mode too often, contact a Daikin repair specialist.

Be Proactive—Not Reactive—with Maintenance

Heat pumps should be deep cleaned every year or two. Contact your Daikin Dealer so they can check for things like loose wiring or worn bearings—those pesky fixes you won’t want to worry about during a blizzard.

You may also want to prepare for a winter storm by changing the filter on the indoor unit, which is recommended once per month.

Here is an easy five-step process to clean the filter on your heat pump’s indoor unit:

  1. Turn off the heat pump.
  2. Pop off the cover on the top of the heat pump.
  3. Remove the filters. (They will look similar to the lint filter in your clothes dryer.)
  4. Clean the filters. You can use a vacuum or you can put them under running water.
  5. Place the filters somewhere they can dry before placing them back in the heat pump.

Cleaning your indoor heat pump filter will help your heat pump run more efficiently and ensure maximum heat output from your heat pump.

Measure Your Heat Pump’s Efficiency

Each heat pump has a Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF). HSPF is the rating used to measure how well a heat pump performs in heating mode. The higher the score, the more efficiently the heat pump works. Additionally, different heat pump units have different HSPF scores: While the minimum HSPF in Canada is 6.7, the Daikin 8 zone multi-split can function up to 16.5 HSPF.

Take stock of your heat pump’s temperature readings during the winter months so that you can plan your backup heating accordingly when a storm is on track. Knowing the full range of your heat pump’s capabilities will help you plan for a storm day when you can expect your heat pump will be working less efficiently.

Plan Your Backup Heat Source

Heat pumps extract the warmth from the air and move it into your home, and when the temperature drops below -20°C, they may not be able to transfer heat as efficiently. During extreme weather events, you may need a backup source of heat.

If you have a ductless/mini-split heat pump, your backup will likely be electric baseboard heating. Since the mini-split heat pump doesn’t require ductwork, many homeowners already have electric baseboard heat in place. Ducted heat pumps harness the forced air ducts in your home to spread the heat around. Homeowners with these centrally ducted systems may use electric heat, but a furnace may be necessary in some cases. Consult a Daikin Comfort Pro near you to see which backup system best suits your home. To learn how to choose the right heat pump model to heat your home in the cold winter months, read the article: The Best Heat Pumps for Cold Weather.

Ready to get your home storm-prepped this winter with a heat pump? Check out our Heat Pump Savings Calculator to learn how much you could be saving on heating each month.