One of the questions many homeowners often ask about air source heat pump systems is whether their heat pump will work in cold weather. Our straightforward answer is: “yes, a heat pump will work in the snow.”

Heat pumps are built to withstand and work in all types of weather, including snowstorms.

How heat pumps work in snowy weather 

You’ve probably noticed that your outdoor air source heat pump unit gathers a layer of ice and frost when it gets very cold outside? There’s no cause to worry. Not all snow and ice that is built upon an air source heat pump system is an emergency situation.

In fact, in a heat pump, it’s a normal part of the operation.

A crucial fact to know about air source heat pumps is that that they are manufactured to deal with an average amount of ice buildup. Furthermore, by using their automatic defrost system and switching to heat distribution mode.

This process will only last for a short while and works by returning the hot refrigerant back to the outdoor heat pump to melt the ice and snow.

Can snow and ice cause damage to your heat pump?

A light dusting of the white stuff isn’t a cause for worry, but a completely frozen unit is not normal.

If your outdoor heat pump remains frozen for more than 3-4 hours, you should contact a professional as this could trigger an emergency shut-off. This cuts off heat to the home, resulting in burst pipes that may cause property damage.

As earlier stated, heat pumps are designed to withstand the elements in year-round exposure. Nonetheless, it is still possible for the snow and ice to build upon the aluminum fan and coil fins, and bend them. This could lead to causing loud noise during operations.

If left unchecked, this could burst the fins.

Snow and ice maintenance

Rather than worry about your air source heat pump as winter approaches, you can actually take a few steps to prevent snow and ice buildup. Here are some maintenance tips:

  • Don’t install your outdoor heat pump close to the ground. The farther it is from the ground, the lesser the chances of a buildup.
  • Monitor your heat pump during winter and remove any snowdrifts, vegetation, or debris that is within two feet of your heat pump. Be sure to turn the unit off or set it to ’emergency heat’ before you commence the cleaning.
  • Do not cover your heat pump. It needs to be able to freely take in air along the sides and release exhaust out the top. Decreased airflow means decreased efficiency.
  • Never stack anything on top of your heat pump. Furthermore remember the 2-feet clearance applies to the top of the unit as well.
  • Build a wind barrier with either shrubs or fences. Similarly remember to keep them far enough away for servicing and airflow.
  • Like all other systems, make sure that routine maintenance is carried out. This will make sure that your air source heat pump during the peak heating season is operating efficiently.
  • If you’re snowed in and can’t make your way to the heat pump, you might have to turn on a secondary heat source. This will only be until you can access your heat pump.

What to do if you heat pump isn’t defrosting

If you observe that your heat pump has been blocked by ice and seems very difficult to defrost, there are few things you should do.

  • Ensure that the air filter is in good shape.
  • If there is a build-up, then you might have to replace the filter.
  • Check the find of the condensing fan, clear away all debris blocking its function.
  • Manually turn on the fan.
  • If the air does not come out through the vent, there might be a problem at the fan motor.
  • Seek the service of your heat repair company to know the problem.


In conclusion heat pumps can work all year round. However you can prepare your equipment for snow by scheduling a tune-up at least once a year.

A qualified technician will perform necessary tests, checks, and calibrations to ensure that your heat pump runs at peak efficiency. Remember, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.

If you are wondering how a heat pump works, take a look at this news update.

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