The rumours are true: heat pumps are more energy-efficient than most other mainstream heating appliances.
Once you get past the initial heat pump investment hurdle, you may reap anywhere from 50 to 400-plus percent efficiency gains from various types of heat pump systems.
Heat pumps have other perks as well:
- They are quiet.
- They are safe to use around kids and pets.
- They are compact (or at least air source heat pumps are compact).
- They are clean (i.e., no combustion to worry about).
- Many come with inbuilt air filtration.
Oh, and they can save you money. A heat pump in peak performance condition recycles heat energy to trim energy bills all year long.
But heat pumps do come with a learning curve. It is important to know how and when to use them and when not to use them. In this post, learn how to optimize your heat pump to control winter heating costs.
Making Sense of Your Heat Pump Control Panel
While some heat pump systems will come with more bells and whistles than others, every heat pump will offer you at least three basic thermostat control options:
- Emergency (heat)
Seems simple enough, right? When it’s warm outside, you switch your heat pump to the “cool” setting. When it gets cold, you switch over to the “heat” setting.
But what is this “emergency” setting all about? What do you use that for? Let’s find out.
That Pesky “Emergency Heat” Heat Pump Setting
The “emergency heat” setting really confuses a lot of first-time heat pump owners partly because a lot of heat pump manufacturers and distributors give out confusing information about its purpose and use.
Today, the vast majority of modern heat pumps do come with a source of emergency backup heat.
In most cases, this source comes in the form of electric resistance heating (electric strip heating), which is known in HVAC circles as “very expensive heating.”
For this reason, the one and only purpose of the “emergency heat” setting on your heat pump is for use in true emergencies. An example of a true emergency would be if your heat pump stops working, you realize you have no other available source of heat, and you know you are about to freeze to death.
We realize this sounds pretty extreme. But if you have access to any other source of temporary heat at all until you can get your heat pump fixed – a fireplace, space heaters, a gas or propane-powered furnace, anything else – you should always use that first before paying for electric resistance emergency heat.
What Is Auxiliary Heat on a Heat Pump?
Some heat pumps have a slightly different control board. In place of “emergency heat,” they have a setting called “auxiliary heat.”
Basically, emergency heat and auxiliary heat mean the same thing. Switching your heat pump to emergency or auxiliary heat triggers it to begin heating using its backup heat source, which in most cases is going to be electric resistance heating.
Why Is Electric Resistance Heating So Expensive?
Even the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) states that electric resistance heating (strip heating) is almost always more expensive than any other type of heating system.
The reason has to do with the type of fuel it requires – electricity – rather than the heat production method (electric resistance).
Electric resistance heating itself is actually 100 percent energy-efficient. The DOE explains that the majority of electric resistance heating systems are powered by electricity produced by burning fossil fuels like coal, oil or gas. The combustion processes used to produce this electricity are very inefficient (averaging around 30 percent conversion rates).
This makes electric resistance heating one of the least efficient and most expensive heat sources you could choose.
You Don’t Need to “Switch Over” to Emergency Heat
There is never a need to manually switch over to your emergency or auxiliary heat setting on your heat pump, unless, of course, the true emergency scenario we outlined above here actually applies to you.
Otherwise, just never use that setting on your heat pump control panel. In fact, when you look at that setting, train yourself to see dollar signs instead of words. This will serve as a handy deterrent.
Keep in mind that some energy companies (which are undeniably keen to sell you more energy at premium prices) might tell you that you should always switch your heat pump over to the emergency/auxiliary heat setting when it reaches a certain temperature outside. Do not do this.
On its worst day, your heat pump operating on normal heat mode is still going to deliver 150 to 200 percent more energy-efficient and economical heating than any other heat source (save solar) on its best day. So even if your heat pump can’t deliver the full complement of heating your home requires, it can still continue to deliver some heat.
For the rest of the heat you need, plan to have your own emergency system in place, whether that be space heaters, a fireplace or gas fireplace insert, a gas or propane furnace, radiant heat or some other system that is not electric resistance heating.
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