Should I Use My Heat Pump’s ‘Emergency Heat’ Setting?

Published on: January 30, 2016
Two AC units outside | AC Southeast®

If you have a heat pump for your Alabama home, you may have noticed an emergency heat setting on your thermostat. While your first instinct may include hesitating before you press the button, the question remains: What exactly is the purpose of that button and when would I need to use it? Understanding what is an emergency for your heat pump, according to the manufacturer, can help you decide whether to use the emergency heat setting.

The Workings of Your Heat Pump

Heat pumps alone work best specifically for milder climates. Instead of generating heat like a furnace, heat pumps pull heat from the air or the ground and move that heat inside to warm a home. The pump unit works in reverse to cool your home. Most of the heating or cooling effect actually comes from the air and not from electricity, making heat pumps efficient choices for the right climates. In colder climates, a heat pump needs an alternative heat source to properly heat a home.

Although heat pumps work best during milder winter weather, these units also work when the temperature drops. Unfortunately, your heating bill could suffer if the weather turns uncharacteristically cold. The colder the temperatures become outside, the more electricity the heat pump has to use to warm your home inside. If you opt to turn on the auxiliary heat, your home will heat faster than using your heat pump alone. While auxiliary heat typically uses more energy than the pump unit itself, the auxiliary heat can help make your home feel more comfortable when outdoor air temperatures turn cold.

Functions of Emergency Heat

The emergency heat setting on your programmable thermostat engages your alternative or supporting heat source when a problem occurs with your heat pump. If your heat pump turns off suddenly, or your home doesn’t seem to become warm, the emergency heat pulls the alternative heat source, whether that source is a furnace or electric resistance heat.

When your heat pump fails, the emergency heat button can preserve your electric bill by preventing the heat pump from wasting energy trying to heat a home when the heat pump isn’t working correctly.

When You Should Use Emergency Heat

A major temperature drop in Alabama may seem like an emergency if you aren’t used to the cold, but that issue is not the purpose behind the emergency setting. This auxiliary heat setting will help blow warm or hot air out of your vents when your traditional setting gradually works to warm the house.

The emergency setting will also essentially shut off your heat pump when a major issue occurs. When components of your heat pump do not work properly, you can use the emergency heat setting to heat your home. However, if you turn off your heat pump when it’s working normally, you can drive up your utility bills by simply using this supplemental heat source alone.

When You Shouldn’t Use Emergency Heat

A common myth about heat pumps and the emergency setting is that you should use the setting when the weather turns cold or drops below freezing. Remember that the emergency heat setting works specifically for a failure with the heat pump, not for a drop in temperature. Your heat pump should work as it should, even when the weather becomes uncharacteristically cold for the southeast United States. Let your heat pump do its job, unless a real problem exists with the heat pump and it needs to be serviced or repaired.

Although programmable thermostats can help you save energy in your home, and help you control the temperature, all the buttons and settings can get confusing. Here’s another common myth: You should use the emergency heat setting for times when the weather becomes very cold. Although your system will work in colder temperatures, you stand to waste valuable energy.

If you have questions about the settings on your thermostat, or if you find you need to upgrade your existing heat pump, visit AirConditioningSouthEast.com to find a local contractor who can arrange an appointment with you to discuss more information about heating systems for your home.