Heat Pump in Attic: 6 Problems

A heat pump is a very popular solution for artificial heating in the living space as well as for the water system. It is a relatively new concept to the artificial house heating industry and thus there is some debate as to which is the best place to store a heat pump.

Usually, most homeowners install condensing unit on the outside of the house in an area which is away from humidity or moisture and is well-ventilated. It is installed near one of the exterior walls and is kept near the ground. This is of course the outdoor unit that is being referred to.

The indoor unit is the heat pump, which is placed in a central location that is close to the wall so that it can be easily connected to the outdoor unit.

While it is recommended to dedicate a separate utility closet for the purpose of storing the indoor unit of a heat pump, it is not always possible as not every house has abundant storage space. This is where the whole debate about placing the equipment inside the attic arises from.

Some contractors may also suggest that the attic may be a good place for installing the heat pump.

This is said for several reasons such as the lower cost of installation, saving storage space on the lower floors, and even the fact that the access point being through the roof makes it easier for later repairs and such.

This seems like a sensible decision at first glance but there are some problems that homeowners may face after an attic installation.

Heat Pump in Attic

Can You Put A Heat Pump In The Attic?

Technically speaking, it is possible to put the heat pump in the attic. But the question is whether you should or not.

Looking at this debate linearly, it is fairly practical to install a heat pump in the attic. The attic is a good storage space and not in anybody’s way either. Such a condition implies that the residents of the house will not have to be subjected to the constant buzzing sound from the heat pump while it runs and it being up there will leave out precious storage space of the lower levels for storing necessary everyday objects.

Even so, these are trivial matters as the low cost of installation and ease of installing as well as future repairs make it a good prospect. Many contractors will also suggest putting the heat pump in the attic and that automatically means that the ducts will be set through the upper level to supply heating to all the rooms and there have to be special installments in place to force the warm air downwards.

Despite this, if the heat pump- whose role is to distribute heat is being placed inside the attic which is usually the hottest part of any house and is stuffy and humid, then the appliance will lose its efficiency faster than if it was placed in, say the basement or the garage.

6 Problems With Installing A Heat Pump In The Attic

So far, it is clear that installing a heat pump in the attic is not a good idea after all as it can lead to many subsequent problems. But what exactly are these so-called problems? Let us have a look.

Regular maintenance takes a back seat

HVAC appliances such as heat pumps, furnaces, and air conditioners need regular maintenance and cleanup. This is necessary as these appliances deal with the surrounding air which carries a lot of dust and which ultimately settles on it, dirtying the ducts, the internal parts, and so on.

Therefore it is recommended that you clean the accessible parts of the heat pump every fifteen or twenty days to prevent this accumulation of dust.

But if the pump is in the attic then it is kind of difficult to conduct regular maintenance because if you are not seeing and hearing the heat pump every day, it can just slip from your mind until you suddenly remember one day. This is nothing unnatural and can happen to the best of us.

Because as they say, “out of sight, out of mind”, having the appliance in a place where you go at least once or twice a week will help you keep its upkeep in mind.

Cleaning Ducts is a hassle

The ducts are the channels using which the warm air is forced downwards into the rooms and these ducts are very delicate in their constitutions, to say the least.

They are made of a light plastic or canvas material and can get easily damaged or broken if too much poking around while cleaning is done. In most cases, a filthy duct has to be replaced entirely as there is no way to clean it without breaking it.

Lowered efficiency of the Heat Pump

No matter how the weather is, the attic is that place in your house that receives the worst of it. If the weather is hot then the attic transforms into an oven and on days when the temperature starts to drop, the air in the attic also seems to freeze.

On the whole, this place is not an ideal place for living or placing an appliance such as heat pumps which are not built to withstand extremes of temperature.

If where you live does undergo such changes in the weather then it is a matter of time before the heat pump breaks down because it cannot hold this extra heating and cooling load. This would not be the case if you place the heat pump somewhere where it does not have to be directly subjected to extremes in temperature.

But why does this happen? It is because most attics are not in liveable conditions as it is an unconditioned and uninsulated places which is the first part of your house to get heat from the sun and also lose the said heat. Thus an attic installation will need extra insulation for the ductwork and this might shoot up the costs by a lot.

Energy bill may see an increase

We have all learned in middle school that warm air being light rises upwards while cold air being heavy sinks downwards.

Similarly, in the case of a heat pump that produces warm air, it is modeled keeping in mind the above fact. Now you might ask why this fact is relevant in the case of an attic installation of a heat pump.

It is very relevant because if it is installed in the attic- the highest point in the house the warm air has no space to move and will not be supplied to the lower levels unless a forced air infrastructure is also installed which will forcibly direct the airflow through the ducts in a downward direction.

This also means that while you are trying to save up on the installation costs while putting the heat pump in the attic, your monthly electricity bill will see a rise in the digits.

Poor accessibility

Not all houses have an attic that is spacious. Some of them are small and cramped and are even hard to get into. This would not have been an impediment to placing your heat pump over there if it did not need regular maintenance.

You cannot call professionals to clean the appliance and the ducts every twenty days and ultimately have to do it yourself. But how can one be expected to clean something by fitting themselves into a small and cramped place which probably is not even ventilated or illuminated?

Cleaning a bulky appliance in such a condition can not only be difficult but also dangerous to some extent.

Issues of Drafts and Dust

Do you know what a “vapor barrier” is? When a house is built, this thing is installed on the ceiling before the insulation or drywall. It is a film of plastic that is well set with acoustic sealant to prevent any air leakages and dust from the insulation inside the attic.

When a heat pump is installed inside the attic, this vapor barrier and insulation have to be cut through to create vents for the ducts to pass through.

If they re-seal the vapor barrier properly then it’s all well and good but in many cases, the contractors do not bother with sealing the gaps around the duct that penetrates in and out of the wall; and this leads to a huge problem.

Heat loss and drafts are two such results of a botched-up vapor barrier and on top of that, there are also the issues of dust from the insulation. 

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Wrapping Up

Looking at these above points, it is easy to see why installing the heat pump in the attic is not recommended. However, not everyone can afford to dedicate precious storage space to building a utility closet for a heat pump.

You may be left with no choice but the attic, and if you do, at least make sure that the place is well insulated, complete, and in habitable condition.

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