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Cold winter weather is making some nights in Northern Virginia quite nippy. Your home’s heat pump may be working overtime to keep your home toasty warm. You may notice that the outside part of the heat pump gets a layer of frost on it. An occasional frosty heat pump is normal, but if the frost layer never leaves, your heat pump may be having problems.

Why Frost Happens

Heat pumps use differences in temperature to heat and cool your home. In the winter, the heat pump will drop the temperature in its outside coils to well below freezing. This keeps it cooler than the air outside. To heat your home, it uses the warmer outside air to warm up the extremely cold coolant in the coils. It takes this heated coolant into the house where it uses it to warm up the inside air.

Because the outside coils are so cold, any moisture that gets near them turns into frost that clings to the outside unit.

To make sure the frost doesn’t build up too thick, the heat pump will go through an occasional defrost cycle. It does this by warming up the coolant inside the coils to a few degrees above freezing. This starts to melt away the frost, turning the moisture into vapor. If you pay attention, you’ll see steam rising up from the outside unit during a defrost cycle. This operation is entirely normal.

What If There’s Too Much Frost?

If the defrost cycle isn’t working properly, however, you may see the frost buildup getting thicker. Eventually, you may find the entire outside unit completely iced over. The problem could be a bad defrost controller, timer, thermostat or sensor. It could be a stuck valve or a low amount of refrigerant. In any case, it’s something a professional should diagnose and fix as soon as possible.

When you find a frosty heat pump and it only gets worse, call in the professionals at Griffith Energy Services. We proudly serve the home comfort needs of homeowners throughout Northern Virginia.

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