One of the overlooked aspects of having a heat pump is the care going forward. Heat pumps are a mechanical system with many moving parts and run in most cases 24/7 with a life expectancy of 12 to 20 years. Much like a car, a heat pump needs routine maintenance to insure it is running as efficiently as possible, to catch small problems before they become major problems and to extend the life of the system to save on replacement costs. Unlike a car, you cannot tell when a heat pump is having problems. We jump in our cars and in most cases you can tell when it is not running as well as it once did or you feel a problem or hear a problem. With a heat pump we do not have the benefit of this. A heat pump running well versus not is impossible to tell. You cannot hear if a system is low on refrigerant. You cannot feel when a 50 dollar contractor is about to cause a 2,000 dollar compressor to fail. You cannot tell when it is not running as well as it once did.
Efficiency is something you can protect with a good maintenance program. When we purchase a heat pump we try to buy as efficient a product as our budget will allow because we understand that if we can save 10 to 20 dollars a month for 15 to 20 years that is a good investment. But what we cannot see is when this efficiency we bought begins to go away. In our industry all we do is transfer heat. In the summer we absorb the heat inside and transfer it outside and let it go, that is how we cool. In the winter we absorb the heat outside and transfer it inside and let it go, that is how we heat. With maintenance that is why keeping the coils clean to absorb this heat is so important. If the coils become dirty it causes the efficiency you bought to go away. Also by not being able to tell when a system is low on refrigerant affects efficiency. Refrigerant is what allows us to transfer the heat from one coil to the other. If a system is 10% low on refrigerant a heat pump will work 20% harder to transfer this heat and again your efficiency is greatly affected without knowing it.
Catching a small problem before it becomes a big problem is a key
Catching a small problem before it becomes a big problem is a key with a scheduled maintenance program. We understand that to replace a compressor is very expensive but what most people don’t understand is that almost always something caused the compressor to fail. A contactor that starts the compressor can become pitted over time and causes electrical failures with compressors. Compressors have capacitors that help them run, again this can cause failures without a trained technician seeing when they need replaced before failure. A system low on refrigerant causes a system to run harder and longer which stresses the whole system.
Extending the life of equipment is another key element of a good maintenance program. The life expectancy of a heat pump is 12 to 20 years. The reason for the big gap is that a system that is not properly maintained in most cases will need to be replaced much sooner versus a well maintained system. Well maintained is running easier and avoiding major problems that help extend life. Dirty coils and low refrigerant or just a couple of things that make heat pumps run much harder and shorten the life of the system. Think of it again like your car, if you run your car 80 miles an hour versus 50 miles an hour the engine is working harder and shortening the life of the car but you cannot tell when the heat pump is running harder. Maintenance is what allows us to run them easier.
So between installing a heat pump and replacing the heat pump a lot of things are going on. A good maintenance program in place is what helps determine the gap between installing and replacement not to mention the cost of repairs. Keeping the coils clean, checking proper levels of refrigerant, checking components and safeties that protect and assist the running of the system are the keys of maintenance.