When Does A Heat Pump Switch To Emergency Heat?

You should switch from your heat pump to emergency heat when the temperature dips to a level that starts affecting your pump’s efficiency. Failing to do so can increase your energy usage and costs.

Heat pumps are more efficient than gas furnaces and other electrical heating systems. Using one can save you as much as 50% on your electricity bill, which could translate into saving thousands of dollars every year, depending on your climate.

However, the amount you save will depend not only on usage, but also on the system you’re switching from. And take note that though they are generally more efficient, there are some disadvantages to heat pumps to consider, as well.

The rest of this article will discuss more on how you can use emergency heat to protect your heat pump. Let’s get started.

When To Use Emergency Heat?

If you have a heat pump, but it seems your home isn’t getting any warmer when the weather gets colder, it’s a good indication that your pump isn’t working efficiently. In this case, it’s best to switch to emergency heat

Heat pumps transfer heat from outdoors into your home. The heat pump’s electricity further increases the temperature of this outside heat. 

Read: Heat Pump Heats But Does Not Cool

Despite the pump’s efficiency, extremely cold external temperatures make it work harder, and it may even freeze and shut down. This usually occurs when outside temperatures reach 30°F (-1°C) or below.

Some heating systems that use a heat pump have an emergency setting. This allows the backup system to automatically turn on when your heat pump shuts off. Your thermostat display will usually indicate when the emergency heat is on. 

Read: American Standard Heat Pump Error Codes – Troubleshooting Guide

What Is Emergency Heat?

Emergency heating is an additional, usually alternative, mode of heating. It can be automatically or manually switched on. Regardless of which, your heat pump will no longer work when your system is in emergency mode.

Have a Question? Ask HVAC Technician

Click here to use the chatbox to speak with one of our technicians.
No in-home service calls. No appointments.

Your emergency heat can run on natural gas, oil, or electricity. Air handlers in electric systems regulate and circulate air. When in emergency mode, the system allows the air handler to work as an electric furnace. 

When your heating system switches to emergency mode, it helps prevent your pump from getting damaged. However, you should never use it as a long-term heating solution.

Read: What Is Water Heater Heat Pump? Everything You Need To Know

When Shouldn’t You Use Emergency Heat?

If your heat pump freezes over, gets damaged, or malfunctions, it’ll stop working. Emergency heating allows you to stay warm if any of these situations occur. It’s a short-term measure until your heat pump gets fixed or thaws.

However, using emergency heat for an extended period can overwork your backup system. If it runs on electricity, doing this can increase your heating costs, but systems using natural gas and oil can run for longer in emergency mode. They’re more sustainable, but relying on emergency mode for more than a few hours or days isn’t recommended.

If a frozen heat pump activates your emergency heating, it’ll eventually thaw out. However, if you suspect your heat pump isn’t working efficiently, you should get an expert to look at it, as there may be other reasons your heat pump isn’t working properly.

Read: Cost Of The Heat Pump: Everything You Need To Know About It

Other Common Heat Pump Issues

Heat pumps usually last for as long as 10 to 15 years. However, there are many things, other than icing over, that may cause it to stop working. These range from electrical issues to faulty thermostats. This may be the case if you notice one or more of the following while using your heat pump:

  • The temperature outside is over 40°F (4.44°C), your heat is on, but your home still isn’t getting warmer
  • Increasing the heat has no effect
  • The heat pump is blowing cold air
  • It’s icing up in summer or during warmer weather
  • While it’s on, your breaker keeps tripping
  • The airflow is not at an optimal level
  • The blower isn’t working
  • The heat pump is cycling on and off
  • There’s a sudden increase in your energy bills
  • Your unit is making a lot of noise while in use
  • Your unit isn’t turning on

Your heat pumps icing over during winter may be a natural occurrence when there’s a sudden drop in temperature. However, there may be instances when this can signal other issues. 

Does your heat pump get covered with dense ice? If so, you should have it checked by an HVAC company.

Some of the other issues mentioned above may also not resolve on their own. You’ll need to have repairs for most of them done by a professional. The alternative will be using your backup heating. If the issue isn’t repaired, you may be using emergency mode for too long. 

Read: Where Is The Heat Pump Located?

Troubleshooting Heat Pump Issues

It’s recommended that you contact a professional for any heat pump issues. However, there’s some basic troubleshooting you can do:

  • Remote woes: Is nothing happening when you try adjusting your heat pump’s temperature? Examine your remote. If the numbers on display seem faded, it may need new batteries. If your remote isn’t working properly, the signal won’t reach the heat pump to adjust the temperature.
  • Icing issues: Drops in temperature can result in your heat pump freezing. However, this can also occur faster if there are blockages in and around your exterior unit. These blockages can include leaves or overgrown plants close to the unit. Make sure there’s adequate space between any vegetation you have and your exterior unit. Also, ensure the area around it is clear of leaves and other debris.
  • Dirty filters: If your heat pump isn’t working efficiently, it may be due to a dirty filter. A dirty filter will compromise airflow resulting in your pump having to work harder to warm the air. Clean your air filters regularly to avoid this.
  • Reset mode: If your heat pump stops working, you can try to reset it. If the issue is due to a faulty thermostat or power surge, this can help resolve it. There’s usually a switch located near the external unit. Once you turn it off, wait and then turn it back on after a few seconds. If this doesn’t fix the issue, you’ll need to call a professional.
HVAC Air Filter
$25 - 168
Buy on Amazon
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

How To Avoid Heat Pump Issues?

Unfortunately, many people usually find out their heat pump isn’t working when they need it the most. But this doesn’t have to be the case. Regular maintenance before temperatures dip can help ensure you don’t experience this. 

Most HVAC experts recommend having your heat pump serviced annually. You should also do your own maintenance between servicing. This includes cleaning excess debris and leaves from external units. Avoid having plants close to the unit or trim them regularly to lessen the chance of them encroaching on the unit. If you use your unit daily, change your filter every month.

Read: Why Does Heat Pump Make A Loud Noise When It Shuts Off?

Final Thoughts

Your heat pump is one of the most efficient ways you can keep your family warm during the winter. However, extremely cold weather will put it to the test. Temperatures below 30°F (-1°C) can even damage your unit.

Thankfully, your backup emergency heat system can provide heating until your pump can work efficiently again. However, be mindful that having it run on emergency heat isn’t sustainable.

If your heat pump is well-maintained, you should only require emergency heating for a short period. However, you should contact an HVAC professional if your main heating system continues to malfunction.