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How to look after your heat pump in Winter

heat pump with snow on top

What you'll learn

  • How do heat pumps work in winter?
  • What happens to heat pumps in the cold weather?
  • What about water and ground source heat pumps in the winter?

With more of us opting for renewable heating systems to help improve the efficiency of our homes, there are a few questions regarding looking after heat pumps in the winter, especially air source heat pumps.

Air source heat pumps are quickly becoming an increasingly popular option amongst homeowners to help heat their properties. The external air collector could be exposed to harsh weather conditions and prone to frosting and snow cover during the winter months. In this guide, we’ll take you through some easy steps to look after your heat pump in the winter so you can be confident knowing your heating system is working at maximum efficiency during the cold weather.

How do heat pumps work in winter?

Heat pumps work the exact same in winter as they do all year round. They use environmental energy (air, a local water source or the heat from the ground) to generate heat for your home and hot water.

Here in the UK, the average temperature during winter is between 2° and 7° degrees celsius. The cold temperatures can mean that your air source heat pump will use more energy during the winter periods to help meet your heating and hot requirements. However, as it’s rare for temperatures below 0°, there is a very low risk that your heat pump will be affected by the cold conditions.

Find out more about how heat pumps work by watching our video:

What happens to heat pumps in the cold weather?

If you notice your heat pump is iced up or covered in snow, this is perfectly normal and nothing to worry about - we’ve tested all our heat pumps in different climates such as cold weather, high speed winds and heavy rainfall so you can be rest assured that your heat pump will operate efficiently in minus temperatures.

Here are some simple precautions you can take to help maintain your system:

Have your heat pump serviced

An easy way to help maintain the longevity of your heat pump is to have it serviced annually by a Vaillant Renewables Partner. Not only does this meet the requirement of the guarantee terms and conditions, but it ensures optimum efficiency and performance.

Your engineer will carry out the following checks on your heat pump:

  • A full visual check

  • Temperature checks

  • System checks (visual and diagnostic)

  • All relevant pipework pressure tested (including testing for leaks)

  • Electrical circuits tested

  • Professional advice on system set up and product use

On average, heat pumps normally last an average of 15 years, however, a well maintained one could last between 20 - 25 years. To book a Heat Pump service, contact your local Vaillant Advanced Renewables Partner here.

Insulate your pipes

Insulating any exposed pipework surrounding your heat pump can help to reduce your overall energy consumption as your system will require less energy to heat the water in your system as well as preventing any heat from escaping through the pipes.

Your Vaillant Renewables Partner can add some foam tubing, also known as pipe lagging around any exposed pipes to help reduce the amount of heat being lost and therefore keeping the water in your system hotter for longer.

Although your heat pump can operate efficiently in sub-zero temperatures, insulating any exposed pipes surrounding your system can prevent them from freezing when it drops colder outside. Frozen pipes can cause damage to your system as it stops water from getting to your radiators meaning your heat pump will have to work harder in order to meet your heating and hot water demands.

Insulation could help to reduce the cost of energy bills and carbon emissions. Adding the insulation can help reduce your energy bills even further as you may not have your system on for as long.

All heat pumps require a separate hot water cylinder so if you want the most energy efficient system, it will also be worth lagging external pipes exposed to the elements.

heat pump outside a house

Keeping the outdoor unit clear

It’s important to keep the heat pump clear from any garden debris such as leaves, bushes or branches. If you notice any debris, use a brush to remove any garden rubbish to prevent any potential blockages.

Add a cover

If you are concerned about your air source heat pump being damaged due to the weather conditions, you could add a canopy or free standing cover to provide additional protection from both garden debris and the ever-changing winter weather.

You can also purchase a specialised heat pump cover that does not affect its efficiency. However, you need to make sure the cover has good ventilation and airflow. If you are interested in heat pump covers, make sure you ask your local Vaillant renewables partner to discuss the best options.

Keep your heat pump free from ice

If your heat pump is frosted up, this is not something to worry about. Our heat pumps have been tested in climates of up to -25° degrees so they are designed to last in very cold conditions.

To prevent your heat pump from getting iced up, our aroTHERM plus heat pump has a de-icing cycle. As heat pumps take energy out of the air, ice can build up on the back of the heat pump. When the outside air temperature drops below 2.5°C, the de-icing mode will activate for a few minutes, heating up the back of the unit. You may notice steam coming from the heat pump and water coming from the bottom of the heat pump. This ensures the unit is clear from snow and ice, allowing the air to flow freely.

Please do not pour hot water over the heat pump to defrost it. As your heat pump is an electrical appliance, it can be very dangerous and ruin the system entirely.

If you notice the de-icing mode is not working, call your local Vaillant Renewables Partner as there could be a blockage that is affecting the heat pump's performance.

Fit a snow spacer

If you live in an area that is prone to snowfall, we always recommend fitting a snow spacer before you have your heat pump installed to elevate it off the floor. Similar to heat pump rubber feet, it provides an additional amount of clearance helping to reduce any possible risk of flooding or snow damage.

If you’re unsure whether or not you need a snow spacer fitted, think about how much snowfall you get each year. If you live in Scotland, it’s highly likely you’ll get more snow than people who live in London. It's important to note that snow spacers cannot be fitted to existing heat pump units.

What about water and ground source heat pumps in the winter?

Ground source heat pumps will continue to work as normal in the winter. The temperature of the ground is considerably warmer meaning that the frost and cold weather will not affect its efficiency. Similarly, water source air pumps operate as usual in the winter as water temperatures are generally more stable throughout the year making them less likely to freeze up.