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Ice on Your Heat Pump in Winter — Is it a Problem?

Posted 01-28-16 in Heating

Here’s the scoop: Some frost on your heat pump during the winter is normal. But a large layer of ice? Something’s probably wrong.

Left: a little ice on the heat pump (okay). Right: Lots of ice on the heat pump (call someone!)
Why does this happen?

When the outside air is cold (below 40° F) and has a high (above 60%) relative humidity, water vapor from the air collects on your heat pump’s cold coils and freezes. 

But the makers of your heat pump knew this freezing would happen. That’s why it was built with a defrost mode. Every 90 minutes or so, your heat pump should kick into defrost mode to melt the ice and keep your heat pump running efficiently.

So a little bit of frost is fine. It should disappear after awhile.

But too much ice can be a problem...

How to tell if there’s too much ice

We recommend that you call a heat pump repair company if:

  • There’s so much ice on the heat pump that it’s blocking airflow into the heat pump (like the right photo, above)
  • The frost stays on your heat pump for longer than 2 hours

These are likely signs that something is wrong with your heat pump’s defrost mode. And you want to get that fixed ASAP, or your home could be relying on just your backup heat source, which is expensive… 

Backup heat is expensive heat

Your heat pump heats your home just fine throughout most of our Atlanta winter days. But when it struggles, either on cold nights or when the heat pump is iced over, it has a backup heat source.

In most homes in Atlanta, the backup heat source is an electric heat strip. Heat strips are a form of resistance heating, like electric furnaces. 

And resistance heating is much less efficient than your heat pump, costing more than twice as much to run.

So if the ice is blocking airflow to the heat pump or it has been on there for 2+ hours, call a heating repair company to fix it.


Coolray has been serving the heat pump needs of homeowners in the greater Atlanta metro area since 1966. Contact us online to ask us a question or set up an appointment.


Photo sources: Left and Right. By Jason Pearce via Flickr. Used under the Creative Commons license. Cropped and added text below photos.

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