Emergency Heat Keeps it Cozy

A wonderful feature of heat pumps is that they rarely leave a customer out in the cold.  Heat pumps incorporate a supplemental or “second-stage” heating source that’s in place for emergencies and heat pump support. This is sometimes interchangeably called “auxiliary heat” or “emergency heat,” but it’s important to understand these are two different modes of operation.

How It Works
These second-stage heating sources use coils or strips of coils that burn red hot—sort of like a toaster oven. But other supplemental sources of heat could come from an oil, gas or, hot-water system as well. If the temperature outside drops below 35 degrees Fahrenheit, a heat pump will no longer extract energy from the outside and pump it indoors to warm the home. The thermostat will activate a second stage heating source to assist the heat pump. It will show up as an auxiliary or “AUX” indicator on a thermostat. This is perfectly normal and part of the system’s design. 

However, if the heat pump malfunctions or becomes damaged, that second-stage unit will need to be manually activated as “emergency heat.” It becomes the primary heat source for the home and will lock out the heat pump. Some heat pumps will flash an indicator light alerting the homeowner to a malfunctioning heat pump. It will usually show up as “EM” on a thermostat.

A Temporary Solution
Certainly, emergency heat can be significantly more expensive than using the heat pump–especially if it’s an all-electric backup furnace. The expense of running an oil or gas supplemental heating system will vary based on unpredictable factors such as cost of fuel, efficiency of the system, type of system and other environmental factors. The emergency heat should only be a temporary solution until the heat pump is inspected and repaired by a qualified technician.

Preventing an Emergency Heat Situation
Having a Residential Maintenance Agreement in place can help to ensure that your full heating system is checked regularly to avoid an emergency heat situation.  To stay up-to-date on the latest HVAC tips and savings, sign-up to receive our newsletter each month.  If you have any questions, please send me an email at shai@tempcontrolnj.wpengine.com or call at 732-218-8400.

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