In the winter months, we often get calls from Oregon City customers about steam rising from the outdoor unit of their heat pumps, which is often mistaken for smoke. Steam rising from your outdoor unit is a normal during the heat pump defrost cycle. The defrost cycle prevents ice from accumulating on the outdoor coils.
Under normal conditions, your heat pump should run without needing a defrost cycle. However, when temperatures drop below freezing, a sensor will set off the defrost cycle, during which the outdoor coils will heat up and melt any ice that has formed on the coils. During this cycle, you may see what can look like puffs of smoke, but it’s actually the steam caused by the coils melting the frost. The steam can appear to be denser if there’s excessive humidity or moisture in the air.
It is important to note that the defrost cycle should not last more than ten to fifteen minutes, and each cycle should only run every two hours or so. If you notice that the cycles last longer, run more often, or if you see ice on the outdoor coils of your heat pump after the cycle is finished, you may need a repair. Another concern is cooler temperatures in your home, which could indicate that the heat strips are not working properly during the defrost cycle.
Once the cycle is finished, the fan motor should come on again, but if it doesn’t come on several hours after the cycle, you should call us for minor heat pump maintenance. There could be an issue with airflow, or a potential motor failure. When there’s a lack of adequate airflow, it can damage the compressor and other components. Call us any time you notice anything other than the normal steam rising from your heat pump during the winter.
There are some ways to prevent excess wear and tear on your heat pump during the winter. For instance, strong winds can greatly affect the performance of your heat pump and may cause abnormal defrost cycles. Make sure the outdoor components are protected from heavy wind by placing some type of natural or manufactured barrier around your heat pump, but be sure not to block the airflow. If you are buying a new heat pump, look for a model that has demand-defrost control. This feature helps to save energy by minimizing the defrost cycles.
Feel free to call The Clean Air Act if you have questions about your heat pump or Oregon City heating.