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Why You Should Keep Your Outside Heat Pump Clear in Winter


It’s almost March—but keep in mind that most of March is still officially winter, and our weather often acts just like it. March has a notorious way of walking in through the front door all full of smiles, only then try to try to exit the house by battering down the back walls! I know, I’ve seen it happen: I work as an HVAC dog, and know exactly when the expert team here at Russell & Abbott gets busy during the year. March can get hectic with calls to fix broken heating systems.

(I should bring this up when I’m on the topic: even with spring just around the corner, never ignore a repair issue with your heater! Having the heater fixed right away helps ensure the problem doesn’t worsen, create a health hazard, or put you at risk of a heating system that won’t work at all the next time you really need it.)

Let’s Talk about Your Heat Pump

If you use a heat pump for comfort, there’s a special job to take care of this time of year: keeping the outside component of the heat pump clear of debris on all sides. It’s important for your heat pump to have space.

Why is this? It has to do with the way that heat pumps run. A heat pump works similarly to an air conditioning system, except that it can reverse the direction that it moves heat so that it draws heat from outside and brings it inside. The outdoor unit of a heat pump contains a fan that pulls in the outside air to run it across the refrigerant coil, and through a process of evaporation the refrigerant absorbs heat from the air. (Even in deep cold weather, there’s heat in the air outside!)

Try to imagine the fan inside the outdoor unit of a heat pump struggling to bring in enough air because there’s debris like leaves and snow blocking the way. That’s why you want the outdoor unit to have clearance on all sides. A blocked outdoor heat pump won’t be as effective at heating your home and will cost more money to run.

There’s another concern as well, which is that snow can lead to water getting inside the cabinet, which can cause components to corrode. Corrosion is a huge danger for heat pumps, and sometimes means they must be replaced years before their time. Rocks and dirt may also get inside the cabinet and cause other types of damage, such as a bent fan blade.

How Much Clearance Does the Heat Pump Need?

Excellent question! I recommend that you keep 24” clear on all sides. Take special care to see that any shrubs growing nearby are trimmed to give the right clearance. A shovel away all snow, including any that are on top of the heat pump.

If you need some assistance with your heat pump in Knoxville, TN or the surrounding areas, you can always count on our team to see that everything is fixed right!

Stay warm,