Your heat pump is a great device that is designed to absorb heat from a cold area and release it in a warmer area, so no-one wants their heat pump to go wrong and break. The quick answer to whether snow will affect your heat pump is yes, it can affect your system from not working properly, but there is a lot you can do to make sure it doesn’t.
First, it’s important to say that it is completely normal for heat pumps to ice-up over the winter, and normally they can deal with this well, without you noticing a problem or them needing any extra attention. Each heat pump does it differently, but they will go into a defrost program which makes sure the coils are de-iced when it gets particularly cold, and this ensures the heat pump is running as normal. Now, if this doesn’t happen then snow definitely will affect your heat pump.
The first issue is when a large amount of snow or ice builds up over time - say you’re living in Wisconsin in the heart of winter and the snow just keeps coming - the main issue you will face is that the snow or ice can surround the heat pump unit and trigger an emergency shut down. This will do exactly as it says and cut off the heat to the home, which in very cold temperatures, will cause your pipes to burst, leaving you with multiple problems to fix. The shut-down could be owing to the pump’s fresh air intakes becoming blocked due to snow or ice, Equally, the exhaust could also becoming blocked and cause a shut down.
The second, is that again when snow and ice encases and covers the unit, the heat pump will try and work excessively hard – over-cycling the system. In the unusual circumstance, you don’t notice your heat pump hasn’t been defrosting and is now not visible under layers of snow and ice, then you’ll probably start to notice your bills being higher as it works harder. You’ll need to change the filters more regularly, and the elements will wear out quicker and need replacing sooner. That’s more additional costs.
There are things you can do to prepare for the effects of snow on your heat pump. When winter is coming, or if a snowstorm is anticipated, make sure you clear your pump’s exhaust, air intakes, and the space around your pump. After particularly bad weather, make sure you check on your heat pump and move any excess snow or ice. Some tips when installing your heat pump to protect it from winter weather include making sure your unit is far enough up from normal snowfall (6-10”), and keep the unit at least 18” away from the exterior wall. But if you’re really serious about protecting your heat pump from the weather, you could consider installing a permanent roof over your outdoor heat pump which would keep snow away from the top and sides.