Can I Build A Roof Over My Heat Pump?

Roof Over Heat Pump Outdoor Unit

What a great idea to cover a heat pump and keep the snow and bad weather to a minimum. It can extend the life of your equipment and even improve efficiency. But lets do it the right way. Over the years that I’ve been working on heat pumps I have seen some good roofs over heat pumps and some that I have had to inform my customers that they should tear it down, it’s doing more harm than good.

This makeshift roof (not even really a roof) over this heat pump completely violated manufacturers instructions. I informed my customer and they removed it.

Every heat pump manufacturer has installation instructions that are available online. In these instructions you will find a section called “clearances”. If you follow that guideline your warranty will be intact and you will be able to build a roof over your heat pump according to the specifications that your manufacturer has engineered to protect provide the equipment with the proper air flow.

Goodman Installation Instructions Require 60″ Between The Top Of The Unit And Obstructions Above

I have found installation instructions online for nearly every model I’ve ever worked on. You can too. Just do an internet search for your model number followed by the words “installation instructions”, then look for “clearances”.

Under the section titled clearances you will find all the information you need to keep enough air flow all around your outdoor unit, including the top.

These installation instructions were not written with the intent of you building a roof over your outdoor unit, but rather to keep the installers from placing the unit in the wrong place where obstructions would hinder air flow.

The distance from the unit to your cover will vary depending on your manufacturer. Using the correct distance for your unit will keep your warranty in effect.

Believe me when I say this “Online forums are not very dependable when looking for this information.

When you read the forum’s for this information, each contributor is telling everyone else to make the clearance to different dimensions. That’s the problem. Take the time to find your specific data regarding your heat pump and protect your warranty.

Some warmer areas where heat pumps are often used would not even need any type of cover. Also in certain climates water vapor is pushed up into the cover and eve of the house causing issues with mold and maintenance. But, in areas where snow and ice are a problem, a covering of some kind can greatly aid in keeping the heat pump clear of snow and ice falling off a roof.

Their are basically two types of heat pumps used in residential applications when considering a roof over your unit and they are quite different.

  • Top discharge
  • Side discharge

How To Build A Roof Over A Top Discharge Heat Pump.

The air going out the top of your heat pump needs to be freely discharged. If the air is blocked by the roof or cover you build, in any way, it could be recirculated through the unit which would lower your efficiency and damage the system over time.

Icicles falling from a roof can severely damage the fan and coils of this top discharge unit. Either can be expensive, but some insurances will cover this type of damage.

This next image shows what is perhaps the most difficult of the two types of heat pump snow shelter plans because it would require working off a ladder and supporting the roof to hold much more snow and ice than with the side discharge unit.

18 inch stand under heat pump
Protect your heat pump with a tall stand and a roof

Construction type and materials would make literally no difference. It would just have to suit your individual taste in it’s completed appearance. It’s always best to build something aesthetically pleasing especially when you consider selling your home. You should build your cover large enough to help keep the sides of the heat pump from building up with snow and ice.

If drifting snow is a problem piling up around your heat pump perhaps a snow drift fence a few feet away or more from the unit would help. Again, keep airflow through the unit in mind.

Building a Roof Over A Side Discharge Heat Pump

What an easy job and something that can actually be appealing or an addition to the installation of a side discharge unit. All of the new ductless or mini split units are side discharge.

If your’s is mounted on the side of the house with brackets it makes it even more attractive. Maybe not attractive to all obviously. You have to be in the business to think it’s pretty. Keep it up high enough on the wall to stay out of your areas worst weather.

With your unit mounted on the wall or even on a pad with blocks to keep it up you are set to build that cover and keep that outdoor unit looking pristine for many years to come. This is an excellent DIY project that most anyone can handle. You don’t need an engineer or an architect. Just grab your choice of construction materials and start assembling your cover.

How To Further Protect My Heat Pump From Snow And Ice

During those foul weather moments when the temperatures dip into your coldest times and you notice that ice building under your heat pump, what can you do or what should you have done to prepare.

Prevention is the first step. Keeping the area clean and clearance around the the heat pump is vital. Heat pumps have to breath.

Having risers under the unit will aid in keeping the heat pump clean and able to drain when in the defrost mode. You can read more about how risers can improve the life of your heat pump or even your air conditioner by reading here.

The defrost mode occurs in the winter when ice begins to form on the coil. That’s the whooshing noise you hear every so often. A timer with three settings is inside the control panel of your heat pump. It should be set to your particular area according to how often it should defrost. The options are usually 30, 60 and 90 minutes apart for defrost.

When the unit defrosts, the melting ice needs to drain down through holes in the bottom of your unit. If those holes are plugged with leaves and junk the ice will build much faster than if they were clear and able to let the water out. Turn the power off to your heat pump. Make sure you turn off the correct breaker and unplug or turn off the disconnect at the unit.

Remove the top of the unit. Get help to hold the top as the wires to the motor will still be attached. Get in there with a good hose and nozzle attached and blast all that debris out of the bottom. You can clean some coils while you’re at it being careful not to put too much water pressure on those aluminum fins. The coil fins are quite fragile and will flatten with too much pressure.

Smashed coil fins reduce efficiency.

This is a needed part of maintenance and should be done as often as stuff begins to accumulate. Your new roof will aid in keeping it clear but won’t be a fix all.

Should I Cover My Heat Pump In Winter?

A direct cover like wrapping it with plastic or canvas to protect it would ruin your heat pump. Heat pumps are made to operate year around in all kinds of weather. Your heat pumps “outdoor unit” is part of a system. Combined with an indoor section called an “air handler”.

These two units work together under the control of you and your thermostat. When you want heat, the outdoor unit creates as much heat as possible depending on outside temperatures. At times during severe weather it may turn on some auxiliary heat to give it a boost and allow it to shut off. You may decide to add a roof over your outdoor unit as this article has prescribed.

How To Keep Other Debris From Falling Into Your Heat Pump.

A little trick that you have to be careful with can actually prevent a lot of those unwanted leaves and pine needles from falling into the bottom of your heat pump. Look at all that unwanted junk in the picture below. Leaves, nuts and a mouse house. The bottom drain holes in this unit are plugged. Causing more rust and lack of drainage.

Now remember to be careful. Anything that disrupts the air flow through your heat pump reduces the efficiency. It would be advisable to have a technician check pressures before and after altering any air flow, no matter how insignificant it may seem.

What’s pictured below is called hardware cloth, I just draped some over this dead unit to demonstrate the idea. You’ll find it at most any hardware store. If you feel the force of the fan lifting whatever you decide to use, then it’s too dense. Find something more open.

Even some small gauge wire strung across the the top in an opposing direction to the existing louvers will help stop a lot of debris from entering your heat pump.

A Really Great Tip If You Want To Cover Your Heat Pump Or AC Unit

You could cover your AC with this hardware cloth, but covering an AC only unit in the winter time makes more sense. Be sure you know the difference between an AC only unit and a heat pump. So many people get this confused. Be sure if you cover your AC to turn off the breaker and pull the disconnect while the cover is on.

More than once has an AC been turned on when someone just inadvertently turned on the AC with a cover on and ruined the AC.


So, can I put a roof over my heat pump? Yes you can.

Use common sense and do some research into heat pump snow shelter plans. Follow the installation instructions that come with your equipment. If you don’t have them they are available online with a simple search.

Rooftop heat pump units are an eyesore in my opinion. I’m not even sure if they are very practical. Almost impossible to hide or cover.

A roof for heat pump units should be aesthetically pleasing and not a distraction. Make it blend in to the type of construction consistent with your homes exterior.

Chad Peterson

Chad Peterson is near 40 year veteran of the HVAC industry. "I like to explain heating and air conditioning problems in a way the average home owner can understand. "

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