Heat Pump defrost cycle??

I have just a basic understanding of the refrigeration cycle of AC and Heat pumps and once my unit is operating properly (I assume) I just take if for granted.
During the cooler months of the year when I am using my heat pump, rather than my pellet stove, I hear it occasionally go into a defrost cycle. The fan in the outside unit will be stopped and I can hear the compressor humming away. I've been told it is pump hot gas back into the outside coils to eliminate any frost or condensation build up..
Now for my question: Several times a week I drive by a million dollar home on the shore of Hood Canal. There is a AC/Heat Pump unit plainly visiable.. Well not exactly visiable during the winter since it is always totally encased in gigantic ball of frost and ice. Really, it about 6 ft in diameter. If I ever saw someone outside (and I thought I knew what I was talking about) I would stop and suggest that they call the service man to adjust the cycle control settings.
Tell me if I'm wrong, but I don't think a unit in this condition could be operating anywhere near efficiently??
I know we have several AC people hanging out here.. Comments please??
Steve
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Heat
Hey..I am in the biz and I do too sometimes..LOL... I got heat..what problem? LOL!

coils
In a nutshell, correct. Reversing valve allows unit to go into cool mode, bringing heat from inside the home to the coil outside, the fan stops so that the heat build up is there without any interference from the air being moved by the fan (altho, some units only drop 1 leg of the 220VAC to the fan motor and it goes to roughly half speed) and you may get steam.

visiable..
Not_even_close.
It probably has a defrost control failure, and as long as the secondary heat is sized correctly, they probably have no idea. Depending on the model of the snowball (:)) it might be a simple failure, or a bigger issue. Personally, I think its great that you would even bother to do that, since most would just ignore it.. The homeowners might think you are a nutcase, but who knows?

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Heat
coils
visiable..
Frosting is also caused by being low or high on freon. It happens when someone does not monitor the charging accurately.
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