Shield Comfort Heating & Cooling
Columbus, IN 47201
It happens to everyone. You come home from work, walk inside after getting the mail only to open your electric bill and find it shockingly high. If you electric bill in the winter is high, and you heat your Columbus area home with an electric heat pump, there's a good chance there is a problem with it. Normally the heat system is the last thing you would think of because the house has been warm right? WRONG! Just because the house has been warm doesn't mean the system is working properly, it could mean that it's working harder. Often heat pump problems go unnoticed, or a call is made to the electric company who then comes out with their version of an energy audit. They normally say at this point that everything appears to be normal, however they'll also suggest you have your heating system checked.
This article is in no way meant to diagnose your heating system, only a qualified repair technician can do that. This article is simply to provide the average home owner with a better understanding of their system, and to help them make better informed decisions.
Even though your system will run more often the colder it gets, you should know there are a number of things that can effect efficiency, or mislead you into believing that your heat pump is working. The compressor can fail, and even though you can see the outside fan is still running so it appears everything is fine without the compressor you will have no heating or cooling from the outside unit.. Problems such as restrictions in the refrigerant circuit or charge issues like, to little or to much refrigerant ( Yes there is such a thing as to much) Can cause your system capacity to be low. These are just to name a few problems that can cause your aux (backup) heat to run more often and/or for longer cycles.
A heat pump is two to four times more efficient than your backup auxiliary heat. If your heat pump compressor fails, or a problem exists in the refrigerant circuits, or air delivery system your aux heat fires more often. Aux heat ranges between 10kw-25kw (10,000 - 25,000 watts) and will result in higher than normal bills. Problem is there is only so much the average homeowner can do to tell if there is a problem with their heat pump. Checking such a complex system consisting of numerous controls, safeties, wiring, and high pressure gas require the use of specialized tools. There are a few things however that can be done by the average homeowner to help them decide rather or not they should call a repairman.
1)Check the thermostat. I know it sounds elementary, but it's surprising how many times a home owner will mistakenly set the thermostat to EM.Heat instead of Heat mode. This setting bypasses the heat pump all together and uses straight electric heat.
2) Turn the temperature up and check to see if the outdoor unit is running. If it is not, check that the thermostat is properly set to HEAT and not EM HEAT and that the set point is higher than room temperature. If after this the heat pump still will not come on than a malfunction has occurred. You will be tempted to check your breakers at this point. If you do find one is tripped it is highly recommended you call and have the system inspected. It is possible for breakers to trip for reasons such as brown out or surges, but it's best to error on the side of safety and try to determine the cause of it's tripping prior to flipping it on again.
3)Take it's temperature! With a good thermometer, check the return air temperature, and the supply air temperature while the system is heating. You should see between a 15 to 20 degree difference. Note that if the aux backup heat is operating the difference in temperature will be much greater.
4)Check the pipes. The outside unit is connected to the inside furnace/air handler by two copper refrigerant lines. One is larger, about 3/4" or so depending on the equipment size, and is insulated with a black foam material. The other is smaller and normally not insulated, and is about 3/8". If the heat pump is running the larger pipe, in the insulation should be very warm. !!CAUTION!! Be careful in checking this! If there is a problem in the refrigerant circuit or air delivery system this pipe can be hot enough to sustain a burn. For this reason we do not recommend simply grabbing the pipe, but use other means to check the warmth or temperature of it. If this pipe is excessively hot, (more than 109 degrees) Check your filter. If the filter is good it's best at this point to call a qualified repair technician.
If the pipe is cold, and the outdoor unit is operating, the system may be in defrost, wait 5 minutes or so and recheck. If after the waiting period the larger pipe is still cold, and the smaller pipe is also cold, this likely indicates a malfunction with control system. At this point it's advisable to call a qualified repair technician as the controls are quite complex and require many specialized tools to diagnose.
If the pipe is not cold, but however is noticeably cooler than body temperature, this could indicate a problem with refrigeration side of the system. This obviously would require a technician to diagnose and repair.
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