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If this is your first season heating your home or workplace with a mini-split heat pump, you may be feeling understandably nervous about the plunging temperatures yet to come.
The truth is, this winter is supposed to be an unusually cold one here in Ontario.
But a well-installed, well-maintained, well-protected mini-split heat pump can handle the cold and then some.
You just need to know how to set up your mini-split for success this winter season – and these tips will help you do it!
1. Reduce your mini-split heat pump’s workload
Imagine you are a ductless mini-split heat pump. You have all this space to keep warm. But here and there, the warm air you churn out is just as rapidly escaping out through leaky window seals, hairline door cracks and other places.
So you have to work harder – so much harder – to do the same job. It is exhausting!
“Reducing the heat load” is an HVAC industry term that means “seal up your space.” There are two main ways to seal a space: weatherstripping and insulating.
Your home may need both in different areas to help your mini-split do its best work this winter season. Here, it is especially important not to forget about the attic and basement.
You may want to have a look at Energy Star’s Home Energy DIY Audit to identify areas in need of sealing or insulating.
2. Protect the mini-split heat pump's exterior components
The exterior component of your mini-split heat pump is easy to forget about – in fact, so is the interior component, located as it often is high up on a wall or ceiling.
But both components need to be protected, and the outside unit especially so in winter.
The key to protecting the part of your heat pump that lives outside is to keep snowfall, tree limbs, falling leaves, ice accumulation, excess rainfall and wind away from the unit. Wind baffles can also be installed for some units, further reducing potential damage during winter storms.
However, you don’t want to cut off air circulation to the unit in the process. Using a temporary or (ideally) permanent overhang or larger exterior structure that still allows for airflow is the ideal fix to avoid damage to the outside unit.
Always make it a point to check the drain pan regularly to make sure water is not allowed to freeze inside the pan. This can result in costly repairs that are easily preventable.
3. Check sizing versus zoning
When you schedule your ductless mini-split winter preventative safety inspection and maintenance service, be sure to ask your Shipton’s technician to check that the size of your mini-split matches the size of the zone it is designed to heat.
If Shiptons did your installation, you already know this is correct. But if you installed the unit yourself or used a different installation service, this is always good to double-check!
4. Consider opting for a floor versus wall or ceiling mounting
In some cases, even if everything else about the size and efficiency of your ductless mini-split is right on target, you may still feel like it could be warmer in your space.
Sometimes this comes down to the choice of where to mount each inside air handler unit within your zone system. The size and shape of your room (long and low, slim and tall, etc.) can also influence the optimal mounting for each interior air handler.
At times, remounting an air handler can improve airflow throughout the room and keep it warmer for less. For floor mounting, aim for at least 18 inches (45 cm) off the ground to allow for some airflow all around the unit. Also, be sure the air handler is not blocked by any furnishings.
5. Add a back-up heat source, just in case
With optimal configuration and installation, the newest ductless mini-split models can often handle heating needs all winter long. But sometimes older or less optimally installed units can use a bit of help when it gets really cold outside.
For this reason, most ductless air to air source heat pumps are still paired with a backup heat source, often an electric resistance or gas fireplace insert or a traditional furnace system. This helps ensure you will stay toasty warm even on the coldest days.
6. Understand how the mini-split heat pump's defrost cycle works
When temperatures really start to drop, it is possible you will see some frost build-up on the outside component of your heat pump.
This is normal and the reason that heat pumps have a built-in defrost cycle that will automatically go into “defrost mode” to protect the unit from damage.
Frost accumulation on the outside unit will decrease your heat pump’s overall operating efficiency indoors. However, scheduling too-long or too-frequent defrost cycles will have the exact same effect.
Depending on the age, make and model of your ductless mini-split heat pump, you may have an option for timed defrost cycles in 30, 60 or even 90-minute intervals. Where available, an on-demand defrost setting is optimal, since this allows the heat pump to activate this feature as needed.
7. Be sure to schedule your heat pump winter maintenance service
While ductless mini-split heat pumps are very safe, efficient and effective overall at providing both cooling and heating to a space, they do need at least once-annual maintenance to continue working optimally.
As well, the incidence of home fires always increase in winter. Cooking and heating equipment are largely responsible for most home fires and it is wise to schedule a safety inspection to ensure your heat source is operating safely.
An hour or two of timely maintenance now can provide peace of mind and peak efficiency operation all year long.
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