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Keeping the Outside of Your Heat Pump Clear This Winter

Since I’m a dog and built lower to the ground than people are, there are a few things I tend to notice much faster than your average human. For example, on a recent walk I saw that the outdoor cabinet of a heat pump at a house had an alarming number of bushes growing around it. It’s the sort of thing that people who have their eye-lines up five or more feet in the air might not pick up as important. But it’s actually very important. The outdoor cabinet of a heat pump needs to have plenty of clearance around it in order to work properly, both in winter and summer. Let’s focus on winter right now.

Why a heat pump needs space

If you attended my lecture on how heat pumps operate, you’ll know during cold weather, a fan in the compressor cabinet draws outdoor air across a refrigerant coil, where the coil absorbs heat. To be able to draw enough air inside, the fan must have space around it. If there are plants growing too close, or there’s a wall or fence, the fan won’t be able to pull in the right amount of air.

This can cause a number of problems. First, it’ll just make the heat pump have a harder time doing its job, and that means it will cost more to run. Second, it will place more wear and tear on the system, shortening its lifespan. Third, it’s much easier for rocks, dirt, leaves, and other debris to get inside the heat pump cabinet and damage the components.

What clearance do you recommend, Olive?

Glad you asked. It’s best to see that your heat pump has at least 24 inches clear on all sides. If you have professionals install the unit, it should already be far enough from the side of the house—although there are cases where the concrete block of a heat pump cabinet starts to sink, and the cabinet tilts toward the house. What you really need to be cautious of are shrubs and bushes. Keep them trimmed back all year round!

Finally, a word about snow: Although frost developing on the coil is normal during cold weather and the heat pump is designed to melt it off, you don’t want actual snow piling up on or around the heat pump. This will definitely block air flow and heat exchange.

For service for your heat pump, or for new installation, call MK Russell & Abbott. We serve Lenoir City and Maryville, TN.

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