After my last blog post on using heat pumps in the Virginia Beach and Hampton Roads area, I got more questions and comments about them.  With the temps dropping this week, I thought I better answer them now.  Please note I am not a HVAC system technician, but I have been managing rental properties since 1993, so I have learned a few things over the years.  In addition, I have stayed at a Holiday Inn Express too....

Q. What's that whooshing sound?  Did my heat pump just blow up?

A: I get this call every winter.  Actually, that sound is the heat pump going through the defrost cycle.  If you are actually looking at the unit when it happens, you will also see steam rushing out of the unit too.  Don't be embarrassed, it can be kinda scary if you never seen it happen before.


Q: The emergency light on the thermostat came on, is something wrong?

A: Heat pumps work great in our area most of the year.  However, they are not very efficient when the temp drop below 32 degrees.  Heat pumps extract the heat out of the air in the winter.  When it is below freezing outside, this gets to be a challenging job for your system.  To help make it feel comfortable in the house, there are electric heat strips inside the air handler that are used to supplement the heat.  When these heat strips are on the emergency heat light comes on. 

You will also see the light come on if you increase the temperature on the heat more than 2 degrees at a time.  So if it is 65 degrees and you bump it up to 70, the emergency heat will come on until you reach 70. 

The emergency heat does use more electricity, so you do not want to use it all the time.  During extremely cold periods over several days, it could be coming on and off a lot.  Your really cannot do anything about this and you will likely see a higher electric bill next month. 

It is best to set the temperature to the level you want it and leave it set.  Heat pumps are not designed to be turned up and down all the time.  Programmable thermostats change the temp slowly and is really the only efficient way to do it.


Q: There is an ice build up around the coils on the outside heat pump unit . Is something wrong?

A: Yes, you may have a leak in the system.  Best to turn off the system and call for service.  Continuing to run the system could damage the compressor, so turn it off and wait for the HVAC company.

Q: My heat pump is running poorly.  What can I do to resolve it?

A:  With rental properties, I have found that often the air filter has not been changed in a long time.  An extremely dirty air filter will suffocate the system.  Heat pumps need to breathe too, so a dirty filter would be like holding a pillow over your face. Please change your air filter every 30 days.

If you do not change your filters regularly, you may need to have the system professionally cleaned.  The coils in the air handler get very dirt over time and your system will have to work harder to heat or cool your house and will cost you more on your electric bill.  Having your system cleaned regularly is good preventive maintenance too and will extend the life of your system.

Q: My heat pump stopped working.  What do I do? 

A: Before calling for service, try to reset the system yourself.  Turn off the system at the thermostat.  Then turn the breaker off in the circuit breaker panel box.  Now wait about 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes pass go back to the panel box, turn the breaker back on and then go back to the thermostat and turn the heat (or A/C) on again too.  Sometimes heat pumps do not start up immediately, so it may 5-10 minutes.

If you do not have heat (or A/C) within 30 minutes, you will need service.  There are several things it could be, so you will need a qualified HVAC technician to evaluate the system.  Best to turn the system off until help arrives.  You may be able to use the emergency heat if necessary.

NOTE: Some systems like a Rheem, may have a reset switch on the unit itself.  If you have one, you should look for it first to reset it yourself.  I am aware of HVAC companies come out, push the switch and charge you $129. 

Q:  I have an old system and they HVAC guy said it would cost $6,000 to replace the entire system. Is this correct? 

A: I am afraid he may be right.  A couple of years ago the Gov't mandated that all new heat pumps be 13 SEER or better.  A heat pump system has the outside unit and an inside air handler unit.  If either unit goes bad, it may not be able to be matched with a new unit.  Therefore, you will have to replace both units.  Depending on the size of the units and your house, it could cost anywhere between $5,000 to $8,000 for a standard system.  High efficiency units (14 to 19 SEER) can be very expensive. 

Please read my other Blog post on Heat Pumps for a related issue:

If you need service on your HVAC system, please contact me for a referral.  I know a couple of honest companies that I have been dealing with for over a decade.