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We all want to stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer. We rely on these things without giving them much thought. But when something goes wrong with the heat pump, we quickly realize how much we take our comfort for granted.

In this article, we’ll guide you through 12 of the most common heat pump issues you might run into, along with heat pump troubleshooting. Sometimes, a DIY fix is all you need, but it’s valuable to know when one of these issues is a sign you need a professional.

What We’ll Discuss

Understanding Your Heat Pump

Before diving into the details of heat pump troubleshooting, it’s helpful to understand the basics. A heat pump is designed to warm your home in the winter and cool it in the summer. There are several different types of heat pumps, but the three most widely used are the air-source (the most popular), ground-source (geothermal), and water-source heat pump.

How Does a Heat Pump Work?

A heat pump transfers heat between the outside air and the air inside your home. The unit is installed outside the home and is used to pull in heat from cold outdoor air and transfer it indoors during cooler months; in warmer months, it pulls heat out of your indoor air to cool your home.

What Are the Key Components of a Heat Pump?

Several components make a heat pump effective for both heating and cooling a home.

  • Compressor: The compressor maintains the flow of the heat pump’s refrigerant and increases its temperature by compressing it into a gas. The purpose of the compressor is to generate, maintain, and transfer heat.
  • Condenser: The heat pump’s condenser includes the condenser coil, compressor, and reversing valve. It pushes refrigerant through the condenser’s coil; then, the fan and metal fins transfer heat from indoors to outside, cooling your home.
  • Evaporator: The evaporator exchanges heat using conductive and convective heat transfer. In cooling mode, heat is transferred from the air to the refrigerant, which evaporates it and traps in the humidity. In heating mode, the evaporator coil expels heat from the refrigerant into your home.
  • Expansion Valve: The expansion valve sits between the evaporator and condenser and controls the flow of refrigerant from high to low pressure. When the valve reduces pressure, the refrigerant evaporates more quickly, helping the unit regulate the heat from the refrigerant to manipulate the temperature.

The Importance of Regular Maintenance

With all these important components and their critical role in heating and cooling your home, it’s easy to understand the importance of regular maintenance by a professional to ensure these parts remain in good working order.

12 Common Heat Pump Issues

A lot of things can go wrong with a heat pump. Some of them are minor, while others require a major repair job. You might even end up in a situation where the entire unit must be replaced. Let’s take a look at 12 heat pump issues.

1. Heat Pump Won’t Turn On

Many issues could cause your heat pump not to turn on. A surge or power outage could have caused the circuit breaker to trip or be as simple as the setting on your thermostat. For instance, if your thermostat is on the wrong mode or set to the wrong temperature, it may be working fine but just not meeting the criteria to activate the heat pump. Your thermostat might not be properly connected, or a short could prohibit proper communication with the system. More serious issues could involve a faulty start capacitor or a malfunction with the reversing valve.

2. Heat Pump Runs Constantly

If your heat pump runs constantly, it could be a sign of several issues. The least concerning is if you accidentally set the temperature too high or low on the thermostat, making the system work overtime to try to reach the goal. It could be due to a thermostat malfunction, low refrigerant levels, a blocked air filter, or a number of issues.

3. Heat Pump Isn’t Heating or Cooling Properly

If your unit isn’t heating or cooling properly, you could have a leak in your ductwork, allowing air to escape, or your unit may be too small to maintain the optimal temperature based on your home’s size. You might need to upgrade your setup. There are numerous additional reasons your heat pump might not keep things warm or cool enough, but if you can’t find the issue, don’t try to pursue a DIY solution that could cause injury or damage to the unit. If your heat pump isn’t heating or cooling like it should, call a professional to take a closer look.

4. Heat Pump Makes Strange Noises or Smells

A hissing sound could signal a refrigerant leak, while a rattling or banging could come from a broken component or a foreign object obstructing the unit’s fan blades. A thumping sound could signal the motor is failing. Each strange odor could signal a different issue:

  • A musty smell might signify mold growing from a moisture problem, anywhere from the ductwork to the drip pan.
  • The smell of something burning might indicate accumulated dust on the heating element, but more of an electrical burning smell could come from damaged wiring or a component overheating.
  • A chemical smell often means leaking refrigerant.

Strange noises and sounds usually mean you need to call a technician right away—especially if you can’t readily identify the problem.

5. Outdoor Unit Is Blocked

Keeping your outdoor unit clean and unobstructed is crucial for your heat pump’s overall condition and should be a part of your regular, ongoing maintenance by a professional. Debris, like small limbs, dirt, and leaves, can cause multiple operational issues. Reduced airflow can cause the unit to run continuously as it struggles to be efficient. Severe blockages can damage components, causing them to overheat or fail under the added strain.

6. Heat Pump Is Leaking Refrigerant

The heat pump’s refrigerant is a chemical compound that can easily change from liquid to gas using little energy, but a leak can cause the unit to become increasingly inefficient. This can happen from physical damage like corrosion or an accidental puncture. Over years of use, the likelihood increases that seals and gaskets will wear out or leaks will develop at other connection points. Whatever the cause, a leak impairs performance while harming the environment. If you notice a drop in performance or rising monthly bills, don’t hesitate to call an expert.

7. Unit Is Low on Refrigerant

As mentioned above, numerous issues can develop when the unit has a refrigerant leak. As the refrigerant levels drop, it can lead to more severe performance issues, including ice building up on the evaporator coil.

8. Unit Has a Dirty Air Filter

A dirty air filter can happen to any system that isn’t properly maintained. A little bit of house dust or fur from your pets may cause the unit to underperform slightly, but this leads to a more serious blockage over time. Since proper airflow is directly connected to your heat pump’s ability to move air around, dirty or clogged air filters can lead to expensive bills and strain the unit’s components.

9. Heat Pump Is Short Cycling

Short cycling means that the heat pump only operates for short periods of time before shutting off, and it isn’t properly cooling or heating during that time. This could be caused by numerous issues, from a heat pump that is too powerful for the given square footage to a blocked air filter.

10. Unit Has an Electrical Issue

Power outages, blown fuses, or tripped circuit breakers can interrupt power supply to the heat pump, causing it to not function. Check your electrical panel and consult a qualified electrician if needed.

11. Heat Pump Has a Broken Reversing Valve

A sticky reversing valve can lead to issues with regulating the temperature and other performance issues. A faulty solenoid coil and other related issues can also cause it. Since this issue can be difficult to diagnose, it’s always best to check with an electrician.

12. Unit Has a Broken Starter Capacitor

Capacitors can degrade due to normal wear over the years. Additionally, fluctuations in temperature, moisture, and voltage spikes can all cause a starter capacitor to malfunction. This can result in the motor failing to start, the unit overheating, or even the fuse blowing due to an imbalance in the electrical system.

Heat Pump Troubleshooting

As you can see, the potential problems listed above can result from numerous different causes, including instances where the unit is well-maintained but is simply getting old.

The following are general tips for the avid DIY enthusiast, but keep in mind that it’s always best to seek a technician’s expert advice:

  • Check the thermostat: If the unit won’t start or seems to be running excessively, always begin by checking the thermostat to see if it’s functioning, if the level is set too high or low, or if it is even turned on.
  • Clean or replace the air filter: This solution solves more issues than perhaps anything else. A clean air filter has a profound positive impact on how your heat pump functions.
  • Check the refrigerant: This is best left to your electrician, but checking to see if the refrigerant level is low or if there is a leak is an important part of a regular maintenance schedule to prevent poor performance and high bills.
  • Reset the circuit breaker: Don’t panic if your unit doesn’t turn on. First, check the fuse box and see if the circuit breaker needs to be reset.
  • Inspect all of the major components: Every part of a heat pump plays an important role, and sometimes the symptoms could be several different issues.

When to Call a Professional

A professional who regularly maintains and services your heat pump is always the best way to get the best performance from your system. Regular maintenance can keep your unit working for years to come, but it’s a good idea for adhering to the terms of your warranty.

If you check the thermostat and circuit breaker and even clean or replace the air filter and still have a problem with your heat pump, you should call an expert to avoid risking your safety or accidentally causing the unit to malfunction.

About Heat Pump Maintenance: Preventing Future Issues

Your professional technician will inspect the heat pump’s major components and refrigerant level to ensure everything is in working order. Beyond regularly changing your air filter and scheduling regular maintenance visits, the most important thing you can do is not ignore signs of a potential issue.

If you see your electric bill rising, hear any strange sounds, or notice an unusual smell, don’t wait to ask for professional advice.

Talk to the Experts at Conway Services

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the responsibilities that accompany the pride that comes from owning your own home.

Contracting a reliable, professional maintenance service for your heat pump will give you peace of mind. Don’t worry about the unknowns and unexpected expenses stemming from a poorly maintained unit or the failure of a component that could have been prevented.

Get in touch with one of our technicians today! Give us a call at 901-248-1961 for all your HVAC and plumbing needs.


Why is my heat pump running but not cooling?

There are several reasons the unit could run without cooling you down. It could be an issue with low refrigerant, ductwork leaks, or a dirty air filter. It could also be that the heat pump is too small a unit to properly cool the size of your home.

How do I know if my heat pump compressor is bad?

If your heat pump puts out excessively hot air, produces unusually low airflow, or makes a loud noise when the unit is on, the problem might be the compressor.

What is the average lifespan of a heat pump?

Heat pumps last longest when well maintained. The average lifespan of a heat pump is 15 years, but the expectancy is much lower for units that don’t undergo regular maintenance.

Why is my heat pump not working?

The cause could be as simple as resetting the circuit breaker or adjusting your thermostat, but if this doesn’t help, you should contact your electrician.