Dec 11, 2018

Heat Pump Cold Weather Problems

When winter rears its frigid head, heating systems crank up. For about 11% of the country, that means heat pumps are put to work. The number of homes using heat pumps as the primary heating method is even higher in the Southeast. In Raleigh, Wilmington, and the rest of our region, more than one in four homes employs a heat pump.

A heat pump is powered by refrigerant and air, with electricity as a back up. It gathers heat from the outside and disperses it indoors. In the summer, it functions in reverse to act as an air conditioner. Heat pumps are highly popular down south because the weather here is typically warm. Because a heat pump takes in heat from the air outside, it’s less efficient when the temperature is colder. This can lead people to assume that they are having heat pump problems in cold weather. In fact, most of these “problems” are normal ways the heat pump functions.

Heat Pump Problems in Cold Weather

Heat pumps rely on the warmth of the outdoors to heat your home. When it’s freezing out, the system doesn’t work as well. These common complaints about heat pumps are usually a result of the way a heat pump is designed. If you’re experiencing any of these heat pump problems in cold weather, don’t panic. The problem may not be your heat pump at all!


A blast of lukewarm air on a chilly day is little comfort when you’re trying to warm up next to the heating vents. But this is the way a heat pump works. It picks up the heat from the outdoors and expels it inside. When the weather is cold, the air coming in may not be much warmer than the ambient air temperature. If you’re looking for a steady stream of warm air, you’re better off with a furnace.


Remember, your heat pump is taking air from the outdoors and using it to heat your home. This is an efficient and inexpensive system – as long as temperatures are relatively mild. The colder it is outside, the longer it’s going to take to warm up your home. This does not mean that your heat pump is broken! It’s just one of the few heat pump problems in cold weather that you have to adjust to. If you’re having a hard time dealing with it, use your programmable thermostat to start increasing the temperature a little earlier in the mornings, especially on cold nights. Hopefully, by the time you’re ready to rise and shine, the house will be a bit toastier!


One of the most popular types of systems is hybrid heat. These systems are great for southern states, where winters are usually mild. A hybrid heat system uses the heat pump to draw in any available heat from outside sources. The heat pump is the primary source of heat as long as it is more efficient than ‘strip heating.’ Your heat pump has heat strips, or wires, that are heated via electricity. If the temperature outside gets below about 20° Fahrenheit, the strip heating kicks in. At that point, your hybrid heat pump will use strip heating to heat your home – and your electric bills will increase.

The Good News

Still worried about heat pump problems in cold weather? The good news is that North Carolina rarely gets so cold that the costs of a heat pump outweigh its benefits. It distributes heat evenly throughout your house, even if it’s not emitting that blast of hot air you might want. It’s one of the most efficient heating sources available. And the vast majority of the time, it works really well for our climate.

If you’re concerned about your heat pump, our Newcomb and Company technicians are happy to evaluate and diagnose any issues you might be having. A warm home is a happy home, so don’t hesitate to call.

Need help? Call now.