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When to do Maintenance on your Heat Pump

Why Heat Pump Maintenance?

Heat pumps are one of the most efficient heating and cooling systems you can buy (source) and in 2024 they’re heavily incentivized through tax rebates and other government programs. That’s probably one of the main reasons you purchased your heat pump in the first place!

As the proud owner of a heat pump system, you understand the importance of efficiency in keeping your monthly energy bills as low as possible. However, without preventative maintenance, the savings may dwindle as age, wear and tear, and other pressures take their toll.

To keep your heat pump as efficient and high-performing as the day it was installed, routine heat pump maintenance is essential. In fact, the Department of Energy reports that when homeowners are diligent about their heat pumps’ care, the costs of running them can improve by between 10% and 25% (source). 

By diligently caring for one of your home’s biggest investments, you’ll not only save on monthly bills, but also avoid expensive heat pump repairs or replacements. So, let’s talk about how to best care for these cost-saving, hardworking HVAC units. 

When Should You Do Heat Pump Maintenance?

The short answer to how often you should service your heat pump is once or twice a year – similar to the maintenance schedule for any other kind of HVAC system. If your heat pump is the only method of heating and cooling your home, having it serviced twice a year is a good idea, once in spring and once in fall. On the other hand, if you only use it for heating, have it serviced in the fall. If you only use it for cooling, your annual maintenance should happen in spring.

When it comes to regular heat pump maintenance, there are tasks you can take care of on your own and tasks an HVAC technician should do during checkups or tune-ups. Read on to find out what you can expect during heat pump maintenance checks, as well as things you can do between visits to keep your system in peak performance.

What will an HVAC Technician do During Heat Pump Maintenance Checkups?

Inspect, Tighten, Rewire, Seal, Clean, Lubricate:

A qualified HVAC technician will check all the major components to ensure the heat pump is running properly. This includes cleaning the various parts so they run more efficiently, tightening and sealing belts and ducts, and greasing the motor so all internal parts work together smoothly. 

The major areas that can get dirty or experience blockages are the ducts, filters, coils, drain line and pan, blower, and outdoor condensing unit. Technicians will inspect and clean each of these areas and components. They’ll also check the electrical wiring and belts to ensure that they are working properly, rewiring and tightening as needed. Finally, a routine maintenance checkup should include a greasing and tune-up of all the internal parts that work together to make the heat pump work efficiently.

Check on the Refrigerant Levels:

Heat pumps require refrigerant, as it is the substance that enables your heat pump to transfer heat from one place to another. A well-maintained heat pump will have the proper refrigerant pressure at all times. Therefore, when conducting heat pump maintenance, a technician will check for refrigerant leaks, and ensure that it is charged correctly. 

Test the Operations of the Heat Pump: 

An HVAC technician will also run a variety of tests to ensure the heat pump is working as it should. Some of these tests include:

  • Checking the air flow to ensure that air is moving properly,
  • Starting a “defrost cycle” to see that the heat pump follows through the cycle correctly
  • Confirming that heat is blocked when the thermostat is in cooling mode and conversely, that cooling is blocked when the thermostat is set to heat
  • Testing the heat pump’s thermostat for proper functioning

Heat Pump Maintenance Tasks You Can Do Yourself

While HVAC technicians have their checklist of highly technical tasks during their heat pump maintenance visit, there are plenty of ways to care for your heat pump in between your visits from an HVAC professional. 

Best practices for the thermostat

One best practice the Department of Energy suggests is paying attention to your thermostat. The most efficient and cost-effective thermostat temperatures are 68 degrees for cold months and 75 to 78 for warm months.

If you do not have a variable-speed fan motor, be wary of having the indoor fan on continuously. Instead, opt for the “auto” setting on the thermostat.

Lastly, one of the best ways to run your heat pump is by having a programmable or smart thermostat that will work with your system and your lifestyle to balance comfort and efficiency.

Clean and Replace the Air Filter, Coils, and Fan

Without proper maintenance, dirty air filters, coils, and fans can force the compressor in the system to work harder, reduce energy efficiency, and lead to potential problems.

Change Air Filters:

The Department of Energy (and every HVAC company!) recommends cleaning or changing your air filter once a month. A maximum of three months is the longest you should go without replacing an air filter if your goal is optimum efficiency and air quality from your heat pump system.

Clean Outdoor Coils & Fan:

Filter replacement is one of the easiest ways to keep your heat pump working well, but for best results, cleaning the outdoor coils and the fan is essential.

  1. Make sure you clear any loose debris in and around the outdoor unit.
  2. Turn the unit off at the shutoff box, typically right near the heat pump on the exterior wall.
  3. Vacuum with a soft brush attachment to remove loose dirt and debris from the coils and the fan.
  4. Straighten any bent coil fins you find using a fin comb.
  5. Gently apply soap and water or use a commercial spray cleaning solution to loosen caked dirt.
  6. Hose away the soap or solution, pointing the hose directly at the coils so as not to bend the fragile coil fins.
  7. Replace the cover and turn the unit back on to make sure your heat pump is functioning properly after its bath

Maintain your Outdoor Unit Year Round

Keeping your outdoor unit clean and unobstructed at all times is vital. No other structures, debris, bushes, or weeds should encroach and obstruct airflow. Generally speaking, your heat pump should have at least 24 inches of clearance on all sides. Maintaining the area around your exterior unit will also make it easier for your HVAC technician to access the heat pump for maintenance and repairs.

During the fall months, clear any leaves or dirt from around or on the unit; and in the winter, ensure there is no ice buildup on the unit. Check on the heat pump periodically during heavy rains to ensure proper drainage and that there’s no standing water around it. When in air conditioning mode, you should see water draining from the condenser inside the unit.

A Well Maintained Heat Pump Is a Happy Heat Pump

When it comes to keeping your heat pump running efficiently, preventative maintenance is key! Whether it’s a new heat pump or an old faithful, regular maintenance will help you get the most life out of your heat pump with fewer breakdowns along the way. So we encourage you to take on some of the simple maintenance tasks yourself, and hire a full-service, qualified professional technician for all the rest.

Call Exxel for Exceptional HVAC Maintenance, Repair, and Replacements in Central Maryland

Exxel Mechanical Services, based in Mount Airy, MD, maintains heat pumps across a wide area of Central Maryland. We even offer exclusive maintenance plans to simplify everything and reduce costs for our busy homeowners and small business customers.

Our reputation in this area precedes us, as we pride ourselves on placing our customers as our highest priority. Call us today at (443) 821-1040, with any of your HVAC questions or needs. It would be our pleasure to assist you!