Just about every manufacturer recommends homeowners have their ducted, air-source heat pumps serviced twice a year — once in the spring and once in the fall. Most believe that semi-annual maintenance helps keep equipment operating at peak performance and ensures the unit is ready for the heat of summer or cold of winter.
Most contractors agree with the need for twice-a-year maintenance for heat pumps, but getting homeowners to sign on to that timetable can be a challenge. Homeowners are notorious for putting off regular maintenance to begin with, and having to schedule service more than once a year for the same piece of equipment is often beyond what many are willing to do.
Educating customers about the importance of regular maintenance does not happen overnight, said John Henry (Jack) Zohner, owner of John Henry’s Plumbing, Heating, and Air Conditioning Co. in Lincoln, Nebraska. “It takes hard work and dedication to make a difference. John Henry’s has developed trust within our community, and that’s the basis for our business relationship with the majority of our customers. Customers know we care about their health and that we are the experts who can make a difference.”
Fortunately, the local utility, Lincoln Electric System, is also a big supporter of regular maintenance and helps educate consumers about its benefits. “They inform their customers about the value of HVAC maintenance and how it can help reduce energy costs. They also provide rebates for installing high-efficiency heat pumps and cooling systems,” said Zohner.
Given the wide range of temperatures in Nebraska — which exceed 100°F in the summer and drop well below 0° in the winter — Zohner recommends customers have their heat pumps serviced twice a year. “With our extreme weather, many of our customers rely on their heat pumps to protect their health. A great example is customers who have breathing issues and their cooling system fails on a hot, humid day. It could kill them.”
Nebraska has other severe weather events, as well, including high winds, hail, and tornadoes, all of which can wreak havoc on flue piping, outdoor units, and fresh-air intakes, said Zohner. “We also have an abundance of cottonwood trees, and those seeds will travel for miles on windy days and plug condenser coils. In extreme conditions, these coils will be completely plugged, and, of course, that will cause compressors to fail. It’s really not an option to ignore regular maintenance.”
As a factory-authorized Carrier dealer, Fruitland Park, Florida-based Munn’s Sales & Service Inc. installs approximately 1,300 air-source heat pumps and services more than 10,000 of these units annually. “In Florida, heat pump systems can run the equivalent of a car driving 100,000 miles a year,” said Charlie Thompson, operations manager, Munn’s. “Our recommendations of twice-a-year maintenance follow manufacturer guidelines.”
To encourage customers to invest in biannual maintenance, Munn’s offers a price break compared to those who only have maintenance performed once a year. “We communicate peace of mind for customers by having us check and clean the unit twice each year. Further, for our twice-a-year customers, we will not charge a service call if the drain line becomes clogged during the agreement period,” said Thompson.
Still, most customers choose once-a-year maintenance, which is certainly better than no maintenance at all, said Thompson. “We find all sorts of issues during regular maintenance, like frogs and lizards in the electrical connections, grass cuttings clogging the outdoor coil, dirty indoor coils, plugged drain lines, lack of refrigerant, and weak or open-run capacitors. If a heat pump operates with dirty coils, the unit will lose cooling/heating capacity and become less efficient. Many heat pump systems also have pressure safety switches, which may shut down the unit if the filter or coil is dirty.”
SERVICE AND WARRANTIES
Brian Segal, service manager at John’s Refrigeration in Mesa, Arizona, also recommends heat pumps receive mainenance twice a year. “All the components of a heat pump are used for both cooling and heating, which is why they should be serviced twice a year. And, with the severe weather conditions in Arizona during the summer, we find a wide range of repairs is often needed. We let our customers know that not performing regular maintenance may elevate utility bills, increased repair costs, and shorten the life of the system altogether.”
Maintenance should include an inspection of all electrical components, ductwork, and refrigerant levels, as well as clearing the condensate drain and cleaning the indoor and outdoor coils, said Segal. “Customers who see the value of a maintenance program prefer to have the system looked at twice a year, but getting them to call back to schedule a second visit is another story. We sometimes run lifetime thermostat warranty specials to help get them scheduled, but some people still don’t call back, even though the services are already paid for.”
Another reason customers should schedule regular maintenance for their heat pumps is to keep their warranties intact. Most manufacturers require regular maintenance as part of the warranty agreement, but they may not be clear as to whether regular maintenance means once a year or twice a year. That is why Thompson recommends homeowners and contractors alike should read the fine print of the warranties very carefully. “We’ve seen some warranties state that failures resulting from lack of maintenance may not be covered by the warranty and other warranties that state: All products covered by this warranty require maintenance according to the manufacturers’ specifications. Lack of maintenance may result in denial of payment for claims under your contract.’”
It may be difficult to get customers to schedule twice-a-year service for their heat pumps, but if they are regularly reminded that biannual maintenance leads to greater energy efficiency, reliability, a longer life cycle, and better comfort, perhaps they will be a little more likely to pick up that phone and call their contractors.
Publication date: 5/23/2016