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When to Switch Heat Pump to Emergency Heat

If you use a heat pump in the winter, you know the equipment works like an air conditioner in reverse, extracting heat from outdoor air to warm your home. This heating method works incredibly efficiently until the outdoor temperature reaches about 35 degrees. At this point, the heat pump has difficulty extracting enough heat from outside to keep up with the thermostat setting.

This is when many people assume it’s time for switching their heat pump to emergency heat. There’s a setting on your heat pump thermostat labeled “Emergency Heat,” but you shouldn’t use it on a regular basis. To clear up some confusion about this thermostat setting, here’s more information about heat pump emergency heat.

What Is Emergency Heat?

Heat pumps are built with a backup or “second-stage” power source for when conditions become too cold to heat your home with heat pump-only or “first-stage” heating. This backup heat source is typically an electric resistance heater much like the coils of a toaster. While these are great at producing heat, they aren’t efficient at all. Backup heat can also be in the form of gas, oil, or hot-water heating, although these are less common.

Switching to emergency heat means you’re shutting off the heat pump and relying solely on the backup power source.

When Does the Backup Heat Come On?

Your heat pump is an intelligent machine. It has settings that tell it when its efforts to heat your home aren’t working and automatically switches to second-stage heating. When the target temperature is reached, the backup heater turns off and first-stage heating resumes. This cycle repeats as needed to keep your home warm when the outdoor temperature dips below freezing.

Because the backup heat source runs automatically, there’s no need to switch to emergency heat under normal operation.

When Is Emergency Heat Called For?

The Emergency Heat button on your thermostat is for use only in emergency situations. If something’s wrong with your heat pump, use this setting to keep your home warm until a technician can repair the problem.

One example is if the defrost feature malfunctions and the heat pump becomes covered in a block of ice. In this situation, switching to emergency heat keeps your home warm without damaging the equipment.

For help repairing your heat pump so you don’t have to rely on emergency heat for long, contact Arctic Air Conditioning. We’ve got you covered! Central Jersey families have been relying on our team to keep them comfortable since 1977.

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