Let it Snow, Let it Snow

three different heat pump units are displayed showing hot to manage snow and ice in the winterBy Thomas Elzinga
Energy Services Manager

Just don’t let that snow build up on your heat pump! During our normal winters we can get buried in a bit of snow, which can easily cover the outdoor unit of your heat pump. Whether you have a ductless heat pump (mini-split) or traditional ducted heat pump, they both may need your attention.  Clear the snow from the top of the unit and at least one foot around the perimeter. Avoid anything that may block airflow in front, behind, or on top of the unit. Outside units need air space to do their job correctly.
Snow is only part of the equation though. The more humid the air the more condensation can build up on the outdoor coil. With temperatures at or below freezing this condensation can freeze on the coil reducing airflow.
Your heat pump has a natural defense against ice buildup, which is its defrost cycle. This is an operation where the heat pump reverses its normal operation and uses energy/heat to melt the ice off the coils. While this cycle runs, you may feel less heat from your in-home registers. However, the heat pump defrost cycle can create water under the outdoor units, which can re-freeze. Your system may benefit from creating some drainage (shovel width) channels to help move water away and reduce ice buildup at the bottom of unit. 
Lastly, don’t be alarmed if your heat pump runs longer than normal. With lower outside temperatures, your home needs a lot of heat. This makes your heat pump run for longer periods, both day and night.