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Atlantic Refrigeration and Air Conditioning, Inc. Blog

There’s Smoke Coming From My Heat Pump! What’s Wrong?


Yes, this sounds alarming. You don’t want to see smoke coming off of any mechanical appliance for your home (well, except for a barbecue). It usually indicates a fire has started in the machine, and that’s a serious emergency.

So if you looked out the window on a cold day while your heat pump was running and saw big clouds of smoke billowing off it, we wouldn’t blame you for getting panicked and wondering who you need to call to get something done about it. You may be even thinking about calling the fire department.

Well, we’re glad we caught you in time. Although we can’t 100% guarantee that your heat pump hasn’t caught fire and is belching out smoke, we think we can say with about 99% certainty that what’s happening is normal and not harmful.

Can a Heat Pump Catch Fire?

Technically, yes. It’s an electro-mechanical device that uses powerful motors, and there is also some risk of an electrical fire from any appliance like this. But the chance of a fire starting is extremely low as long as you haven’t gone into the machine and tried to execute a DIY repair work. This is one of the reasons we always stress on calling professionals only for repairs for your heating system, even if it’s an electrical system like a heat pump. 

However, what you’re seeing right now from your heat pump is probably not an electrical fire. In fact, you’re not even seeing smoke.

That’s Steam, Not Smoke Coming From the Heat Pump

If this is the first winter you’ve used a heat pump, we understand why you might not be used to seeing clouds billowing from the outdoor unit. A heat pump works in a similar fashion to an AC, but during the winter when it switches over to heating mode it has a few different operations than an air conditioner that might catch you by surprise. One of them is defrost mode, and that’s what’s causing the steam (not smoke) to rise from the heat pump.

In heating mode, the heat pump draws heat from the outside air onto its coils by evaporating refrigerant. This evaporation causes some moisture to form on the coils, and if the temperature outdoors is low enough, this moisture will turn into frost. This frost will interfere with the heat pump’s ability to absorb more heat, so the unit is set to periodically switch into defrost mode to remove the ice. The heat pump briefly changes the direction of refrigerant so the outdoor coils release heat—just enough to melt the ice. This creates the steam you’ll see rising from the unit. It will stop when the heat pump resumes standard heating mode.

Heat Pump Troubles? We Can Help!

If you have any concern that your heat pump isn’t working properly this winter (maybe it won’t switch into heating mode, or it won’t make the house warm enough), our team offers the heating repair in Maryland you need to get back to comfort.

At Atlantic Refrigeration & Air Conditioning, Inc., “We Take Pride in Your Comfort!” Call us for heat pump and other HVAC services in Delaware and the Maryland Eastern Shore. 

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