By Brentnie Daggett
We’re in the throes of the cold winter months in much of the country, which means many of us are spending a great deal of time thinking about our heating systems. In the U.S., roughly 40 percent of homes are heated via electric heat, rather than gas or oil.
Some electric systems encompass the more traditional baseboard or wall heaters, which are significantly less efficient than a heat pump, although cheaper in upfront costs. Heat pumps can cost more initially but are three to four times more effective at heating using the same amount of electricity. Some places even offer rebates if a heat pump upgrade is installed in a home. If you have a heat pump, then it’s important to take care of it to keep it in top shape.
Did you know heat pumps not only work overtime in the winter, but also cool the air in the summer? Because of their multiple capabilities, it’s easy to see how the heat pump can get overworked in its year-round job.
It's important to pay close attention to appliances like your heat pump and make sure to keep up routine maintenance—about once per year—to keep them functioning properly; however, you may need to have an expert make a house call if you're experiencing any of these issues:
Sudden increase in energy bills.
Unfortunately, air conditioners and heat pumps tend to use a lot of electricity. When you first install one of these appliances in your home, it's completely normal for your electricity bills to increase; however, if your energy bill suddenly skyrockets even though your usage hasn’t changed, you might want to take a closer look at your heat pump.
Sometimes the fix for a sudden increase in energy usage is as simple as replacing the air filter to improve airflow and energy efficiency. Other reasons may require the attention of an HVAC professional. Low refrigerant charge, refrigerant overcharge or even faulty installation might be affecting your heat pump's efficiency.
Airflow that isn’t flowing.
In some cases, poor airflow may have something to do with your ducts. If your ducts are clean, clear and don’t have any leaks, the problem may be with the heat pump itself. Poor airflow can be caused by a number of factors, including dirty air filters, dirty coils, the outside unit may be blocked or the blower motor may be malfunctioning. While you can usually handle dirty air filters, blocked outside units and dirty coils on your own, a malfunctioning blower motor and other more technical issues are best left to the professionals.
Your heat pump may be one of the louder appliances in your home, but if the normal humming sound is interrupted by rattling, flapping, screeching or other unusual noises, it may be a sign of a problem. Loose fan belts can result in a rattling or flapping noise, while screeching is usually caused by a poorly-lubricated central air fan motor. You may even hear a bubbling sound if there is a leak in your refrigerant. If any new noises concern you, it’s best to play it safe and call your HVAC technician to check things out.
Smells that aren’t quite right.
Your heat pump needs immediate attention if the air coming out of the appliance smells off. Musty or rotting smells are a concern due to the implication of mold formation or an animal making its way inside your unit. Any sort of burning smell is something you should immediately act on due to potential fire hazard. A burning smell typically indicates there is something wrong with your heat pump electrically, which can quickly become dangerous. If you do smell burning coming from your unit, turn it off immediately and don’t turn it back on until an HVAC professional has examined it and fixed any problems.
The heat is on and you're still shivering.
If your heat pump is running at full blast with a steady airflow and your home is still cold, something isn't right. The problem may be with your fan or the fan motor, or there may be an issue with the thermostat. It's also possible that your heat pump’s electronic control board or printed circuit board assembly is malfunctioning. The thermistor, which signals the main control board to turn the compressor on or off, may be failing as well.
Routine maintenance should help keep your heat pump functioning properly, but it's vital to never ignore any signs that your heat pump might need service. It's always better to deal with a problem in the early stages before it gets out of control. Make sure you have a trusted HVAC professional you can contact if issues to arise. No one wants to find themselves with a broken down heat pump in the middle of the winter!
Brentnie Daggett is a writer and infographic master for the rental and property management industry. She loves to share tips and tricks to assist landlords and renters alike. To learn more about Daggett, and to discover more great tips for renters, visit www.rentecdirect.com.