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Why Short Cycling Is Harmful to Your Heat Pump

Monday, October 23rd, 2023 at 11:00 am

When you have a heat pump installed in your home, it operates in cycles to cool your home in the summer and heat your home in the winter. These cycles turn on and off at regular intervals. But if your heat pump turns on and off too quickly, it is called short cycling and it means that something is wrong with your heat pump.

Having a heat pump short cycling during cold weather in Ponte Vedra can be a big hassle because your home doesn’t get as warm as you want it to. The process of short cycling also adds a lot of strain on the system which can cause it to break down completely. You can keep reading to learn more about why short cycling happens and what it means for your heat pump.

What Is Short Cycling?

Some people are surprised to hear that an HVAC system does not turn on and stay on to keep your home comfortable. Instead, it works in regular cycles by turning on and back off again. On average your heat pump will probably stay on for around 20 minutes to heat or cool your home. It might stay on slightly longer or turn off slightly sooner depending on the individual system, the size of your home, and your thermostat settings.

Then it will stay off for a period of time before turning back on for another cycle. If your heat pump does turn on and stay on, that’s a whole different problem. But short cycling happens when your heat pump turns on and off every few minutes without staying on for long enough to complete a heating or cooling cycle. The process of short cycling adds a lot of strain to the system. 

Why Does a Heat Pump Short Cycle?

Short cycling almost always has to do with airflow. For example, you could have an airflow problem coming into your heat pump. You need to change out the air filter monthly. If you don’t, the air filter can get clogged with dirt and block airflow in. The air filter needs to maintain a balance of capturing dust particles while also allowing air to pass through and into your heat pump to provide a supply of air for heating and cooling. 

When the air filter is too full, air cannot pass through and it puts strain on your heat pump. Without enough air to cool, your heat pump will constantly turn back off as a safety precaution. Yet your indoor temperature is not changing and so it will continue turning back on again. When this cycle continues on, it is called short cycling.

The problem with poor airflow is that it causes other problems, too. Poor airflow can lead to ice on the evaporator coils inside of your heat pump. Even when you do change the air filter again, that ice is still present. Now ice is blocking airflow within your heat pump in a new way and preventing adequate cooling for the air that is entering the system.

It’s also possible to have a lack of airflow leaving your air conditioner. If the outdoor unit gets clogged with dirt, which is very common since it is constantly exposed to the elements, heat can get trapped in the system and re-released into your home, making the temperatures warmer. But this lack of airflow can also lead to short cycling if your heat pump doesn’t release the heat outside.

Preventing Short Cycling

The easiest way to prevent short cycling is to change your air filter on time each month, and maybe even a little sooner if it gets particularly dirty. For example, if you have pets in your home, then the air filter may fill up faster and need to be changed a few days sooner than usual. You also need to use gentle water pressure from your water hose to rinse off the outdoor unit to prevent clogs so heat can escape easily.

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