Why Is My Heat Pump Running Constantly in Winter?


When cold weather sets in and the chill permeates the air, your home’s heating system becomes a crucial player in maintaining a cozy environment. However, if you find your heat pump working tirelessly, it might raise concerns about its efficiency and potential issues that need attention. In this blog, Robinson Heating and Air Conditioning, Inc. explains:

  • Reasons why your heat pump is running constantly during winter
  • Troubleshooting strategies
  • When it’s time to consider professional repairs

Why Does My Heat Pump Run Constantly?

Unlike traditional heating systems, a heat pump is designed to transfer heat from the outside air to the inside during winter. This heat exchange process allows the electric heat pump to maintain a comfortable temperature within your home. In the summer, heat pumps act as an air conditioner, extracting heat from indoors and expelling it outside in cooling mode.

Heat Pump Running Continuously When It’s Cold Outside

During mild weather, a heat pump’s heating cycle usually lasts anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, with two or three cycles running per hour. However, once outdoor temperatures drop below 47°F, the heating capacity of a heat pump system starts to decline and the system is unable to put out as much heat at these lower temperatures. Actual losses in heating capacity will vary based on the age and SEER rating of the heat pump.

For example, a 3-ton 15 SEER heat pump puts out 34,400 BTUs (British thermal units) of heat per hour when the outdoor temperature is 47°F. At 20°F, heating output drops to 20,800 BTUs. If outdoor temperatures dip to 0°F, heating output is only 11,800 BTUs.

As the outside air gets colder, heat pumps lose efficiency. Here in Southwest Ohio, where our winter temperatures regularly get down to 35-40°F or lower, it’s not unusual that your heat pump is running constantly because it must operate for longer periods due to lost heating capacity. In these temperatures, heat pumps are no longer the most energy efficient way to heat your home. If you have an auxiliary backup heating system, such as a gas furnace or electric heat strips, these will kick on to supplement the heat pump and keep your home warm.

So, a heat pump running constantly isn’t abnormal during extremely cold weather. While it’s not typically something to worry about in terms of heat pump malfunctions causing this issue, it does indicate that the system is no longer able to run efficiently.

Heat Pump Running Constantly During Mild Weather

However, if you notice that your heat pump runs continuously when outdoor temperatures are more mild, this can be an indication of a problem. Issues may include:

1. Incorrect Thermostat Settings

Check your thermostat settings to ensure they are appropriate. A common mistake is setting the thermostat too high instead of at the desired temperature in hopes of heating up the home faster; however, this doesn’t actually make your home warmer any sooner than if the thermostat was set at the desired temperature. Many people forget to turn the temperature setting back down once the home reaches the desired temperature, leading the heat pump to run constantly to meet the high temperature demand.

2. Dirty or Clogged Air Filter

Over time, filters can accumulate dust and debris, obstructing the airflow and causing heat pump systems to strain. As a result, your heat pump will be forced to run longer to deliver the appropriate amount of heat. If your heat pump is running constantly, inspect and replace the air filter to ensure optimal performance.

3. Insufficient Refrigerant Levels

Low refrigerant levels can hinder the heat exchange process, forcing the heat pump to run continuously in order to keep your home at the desired temperature. A refrigerant leak might be the culprit, necessitating professional attention.

4. Inadequate Insulation and Air Leaks

Poor insulation and air leaks in your home can result in heat loss, prompting the heat pump to compensate by running constantly. Assess your home’s insulation, and check for air leaks especially in key areas such as windows and doors. Proper insulation and air sealing not only enhance comfort but also reduce the workload on your heat pump which improves its energy efficiency.

5. Defrost Cycle

When the heat pump detects frost accumulation on the outdoor unit, it temporarily switches to a defrost cycle, diverting the system into cooling mode to remove the frost on the outdoor coil. As the heat pump defrosts, the auxiliary heat source, such as electric heat strips or a gas furnace, activates to prevent cold air from entering the home. This temporary shift can create the impression that the heat pump runs constantly.

When to Seek Professional Repairs

If you notice your heat pump running constantly yet outdoor temperatures are above 47°F, troubleshoot the system by checking thermostat settings, replacing air filters, and sealing air leaks. If you’ve tried these steps and you still find your heat pump runs constantly, there may be system problems that warrant the expertise of HVAC professionals.

  • Refrigerant Leaks: If you suspect low refrigerant levels or notice a refrigerant leak, seek professional assistance. Technicians can identify and repair leaks, ensuring the proper functioning of your heat pump.
  • Electrical Issues: Electrical malfunctions pose a risk and should be handled by experienced technicians. If you encounter frequent tripped circuit breakers or suspect wiring problems, contact professionals promptly.
  • Component Failures: When critical components such as the compressor or reversing valve fail, it’s time for professional intervention. Attempting DIY repairs on these components can lead to further damage.

Contact Us for Heat Pump Repair

A heat pump running constantly in winter can stem from various factors, ranging from minor issues like thermostat settings to more complex problems such as refrigerant leaks or component failures. While homeowners can address some issues through troubleshooting, professional heat pump repairs become imperative for more intricate problems.

If you find your heat pump running constantly despite your efforts, it’s time to reach out to Robinson Heating and Air Conditioning, Inc. Our team of experienced technicians specializes in diagnosing and resolving heat pump issues, ensuring your home stays warm and comfortable throughout the winter season. Contact us today for reliable heat pump repair services.