Frequently Asked Questions
FAQs / How To’s

Troubleshooting Your HVAC and Furnace Issues

If your furnace, heating or cooling system stops working, it’s very helpful to perform a few preliminary checks before calling for service. Here are a few “how-to’s” to help you get the fastest, most efficient service:

Why do heat pumps frost up?

  • Frost can be normal in the winter, so don’t be alarmed to see a layer of frost on your heat pumps coils. It’s a result of the refrigerant turning to gas and then condensing as it comes into contact with the outdoor coil. The heat pump’s coils are colder than the surrounding air, causing condensation to settle on the coils, and in cold weather this can create frost. However, once certain conditions are met the defrost cycle will automatically turn on.
  • The defrost function automatically starts when the heat pump detects that certain conditions have been met (including frost on the coil). The defrost function continues to be a part of the heat pump’s normal winter operations as long as air can be pulled into the machine via the condensing fan motor. If something were to impede this air flow, then the defrost cycle cannot occur, and this can signal the beginning of a larger problem.

How to handle a frozen outdoor unit:

  • Is it simply surface frost or is the unit totally iced up?
    • Use warm water to help thaw the ice. We will need the ice removed to do diagnostics, so this will help! 
  • Check your air filter.
    • If your filter is dirty, replace it with a new one. This will help with airflow, and may fix the defrost problem.
  • Check the condensing fan outside for debris and clear any debris around the outdoor unit.
  • If applicable, check gutters above your heat pump. Make sure gutters are clear and not dripping excess water onto your heat pump.
  • Check to see if the fan is functioning. Go to your thermostat and turn on the fan, if there is no output in the vents within a few minutes this may point to a blower motor issue. Call to arrange service.

Ice buildup on HVAC unit

What can cause ice buildup?

There are many reasons your heat pump may have ice buildup on it, below are a few common issues that may cause ice buildup.

  • A stuck reversing valve,
  • Low levels of refrigerant,
  • A malfunction with the outdoor blower motor,
  • The air filter needs to be replaced,
  • The buildup is blocking the coils of the blowers fan blades,
  • A faulty refrigerant metering device, thermostat or temperature sensor,

NOTE: Most causes of ice buildup should not be handled by the average homeowner.

When is ice buildup a problem?

  • When the unit can not pull air through the fins,
  • The entirety of the heat pump is encased in ice,
  • The defrost cycle does not come on,  even though there is frost on the coils,
  • The heat pump has been frozen for a long period of time,
  • The inner and outer coils are coated in ice.

What to do when furnace or heating system is not working:

There are a few questions we always ask when we start a diagnosis, and these may help you get to the bottom of what is happening with your heating system. 

  • Turn the breaker off at the electric panel. Wait a full 5 minutes and turn it back on.
  • Be prepared to answer these questions:
    • Are there any error codes or flashing lights?
    • Are there any weird noises or smells?
    • Is the outdoor unit still on, or are both units not functioning?
    • Is there air coming out of the vents?
  • These are all things our customer service staff will ask, and being prepared to answer a few questions can help us narrow down what is going on and how to fix it.

Why do heat pumps run longer than furnaces?

  • Heat pumps run longer than central systems and furnaces. While other HVAC equipment provides comfort with temperature controlled air (creating heat using an energy source – either electricity or gas), a heat pump operates by consistently maintaining a comfortable temperature (moving heat from the outside air, to inside). This means they run longer, especially in cold weather
  • When temperatures dip below 4C, a heat pump will run for long periods of time to keep your home comfortable.
  • Heat pumps are very energy efficient, the more they run, the more you are maximizing savings.
  • Heat pumps work by moving heat (rather than making heat like furnaces). They gather heat from outside and move that heat inside, and in cooling they do the opposite, they gather heat from inside and disperse it outside.
  • When it is cold outside, if the heat pump hits the balance point (the point where the heat needed by the home is equal to the heat supplied by the heat pump) then the heat pump will run all the time. If the outdoor temperature drops below the balance point the heat pump will run for longer and utilize its back up coils to supplement the heat needed (maximum this will account for is 10-15% of the heat for your home)
  • In normal operating conditions you can expect your heat pump to cycle two or three times an hour at most

Why is there a difference between my thermostat and my thermometer?

  • Digital thermostats are designed to display the room temperature in a similar way to how people sense temperature. This means the thermostat takes into account not just the ambient air temperature but also the radiant temperature of the objects in the room. 
  • Thermostats may also round the temperature to the nearest degree, to avoid rapidly moving up and down constantly.
  • Thermostat placement is also important, if the thermostat is in direct sunlight for part of the day, or next to appliance that put out heat, this may cause inaccurate readings.
  • Thermometers typically read ambient air temperature only.

How often do I need to change my filter?

  • Every 1-to-3 months is recommended, but check your filters regularly and change as needed. Blocked filters can cause inefficiency, make your system loud, and cause air flow issues.

How often should I have my unit serviced?

  • We recommend seasonal maintenance once per year, in the spring or fall, in preparation for your system switching operating modes. Techs will inspect your system, lubricate components, and repair or replace parts as needed.

Why is my ductwork making a popping noise when the furnace starts or stops?

  • This may indicate that your ductwork is having trouble managing the airflow of your system.

What can I do to lower my energy use?

  • Programming your thermostat can go a long way to lowering energy use. Program your thermostat so that you aren’t using excess air conditioning or heat while you are not home. 
  • Check the seals on your windows and doors to ensure they aren’t letting air in and making your HVAC system work harder.

How can I increase the efficiency of my system?

  • Change your filters regularly, and keep up with preventative maintenance
  • Set your thermostat a bit higher in the summer and lower in the winter, even 2 degrees can have a huge impact on efficiency and energy bills! 
  • Use your shades or blinds when in direct sunlight, especially when temperatures start to rise!

How is the efficiency of heating and cooling equipment measured?

  • Efficiency is measured using The Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER), which is a metric that evaluates the efficiency of your heating or cooling system by measuring the amount of climate control it provides for each dollar spent on your electricity bill. Essentially, a higher SEER rating indicates greater energy efficiency.

What happens during a seasonal maintenance appointment?

  • Technicians will check the unit to ensure that it is running to manufacturer’s specifications. They’ll check all electrical connections and make sure they are tight. 
  • They’ll check all motors for proper operation.
  • They’ll check temperatures to ensure that there is a correct temperature difference between the return and supply air. 
  • Our technician will ask the homeowner questions to pinpoint problem areas in the home and provide solutions.

What is emergency heat?

  • Emergency heat is a supplemental heating source, typically in the form of an electric or gas furnace at the indoor unit. Emergency heat is when you use your supplemental heat by itself, without the use of your heat pump. 
  • Different systems and thermostats have different ways of determining when the supplemental heat comes on to assist the heat pump automatically. The two stages work together in colder months.
  • A homeowner will typically use emergency heat as a primary heat source when there is a problem with the first stage of heating (for example, the heat pump is not working)
  • What does emergency heat do? 
    • When the system is in emergency heat, the signal for heat will only go to the indoor unit, bypassing the heat pump. 
  • Is emergency heat more expensive to run?
    • Yes, emergency heat is just meant as a holdover until your heat pump can be repaired. It’s not designed for long term operations.