If your home has a heat pump, you may have never seen it switch into emergency heat mode. However, the name alone conjures up images of an equipment failure or some other unusual operating condition. The good news is that most of the time, a heat pump switching into emergency heat mode doesn’t signify a problem. To explain, here’s an overview of modern heat pumps’ emergency heat mode. We’ll discuss what it is, why it exists, and a few of the reasons your heat pump may enter it.

What Is Emergency Heat Mode?

As the name suggests, emergency heat mode is an operating mode on your heat pump designed to ensure your home has adequate heat. It’s sometimes referred to as auxiliary heat mode on certain heat pumps. However, it’s not always an emergency when you see your heat pump switch into this mode. Sometimes, it happens because the outdoor temperature has fallen too low. Or, it could happen if you’ve—intentionally or otherwise—changed a setting on your thermostat.

In almost all cases, emergency heat mode on a heat pump involves the use of an electric resistance heating element. It’s a built-in backup heat source that serves as an option of last resort if your heat pump isn’t keeping your home warm. Some heat pumps, however, use small natural gas-powered furnaces as their emergency heat option. However, such systems aren’t very common.

The Purpose of Emergency Heat Mode

Emergency heat mode has multiple purposes. Its most basic purpose is to provide you with a way to keep your house warm if your heat pump fails or otherwise breaks down. That way, you won’t freeze while waiting for a technician to come and repair your heat pump. It also serves as a secondary heating system that can switch on if your heat pump isn’t able to maintain your desired indoor temperature. Most heat pumps will turn on emergency heating mode automatically when conditions require it. And most heat pump thermostats include a switch or setting that allows you to turn it on manually.

The Reasons Your Heat Pump Might Go Into Emergency Heat Mode

Depending on the age and efficiency of your heat pump, you might see it switch into emergency heat mode on very cold days. When this happens, it’s typically not a sign of a problem. Sometimes, this occurs because your heat pump can’t extract enough heat energy from the outdoor air to meet your home’s heating needs. When that happens, it will use emergency heating mode to make up for the shortfall.

Another reason that your heat pump might enter emergency heat mode is if its outdoor unit has frozen in the cold. When this happens, your heat pump will enter a defrost cycle to melt any accumulated ice on the outdoor unit. While it’s doing so, the heat pump can’t supply heat to your home. To prevent the indoor temperature from dropping, it may engage emergency heat mode to supply your home with heat until the defrost cycle completes.

Finally, your heat pump might enter emergency heat mode if you activate the setting from your thermostat. Heat pumps have a manual setting for this, for use in situations when the automated system doesn’t do it for you. For example, if your heat pump experiences a mechanical failure that the system’s sensors can’t detect, you’d need to turn on emergency heat mode on your own.

It’s important to note, however, that there is a difference between the manually-activated emergency heat mode setting and the automatically-activated one. When your heat pump turns on emergency heat mode on its own, it will operate simultaneously with the heat pump. This means it’s only providing a heat boost for your home rather than acting as its sole heat source.

When you turn on emergency heat mode on your own from your thermostat, that’s not the case. Since the manual setting is there for you to override the heat pump’s circuitry, it assumes you’d only do so if your heat pump fails. So, when you use the manual emergency heat setting, your heat pump itself will shut down. You should never do this if your heat pump isn’t malfunctioning. If you do, you’ll be spending a great deal more to heat your home due to the relative inefficiency of the backup electric resistance heating element.

When Emergency Heat Mode Represents a Problem

If you’ve manually activated emergency heat mode on your heat pump, it’s likely because you already know there’s a problem. However, there are a few other times when emergency heat mode might signal a problem with your heat pump.

For example, if your heat pump enters emergency heat mode when it’s not significantly below freezing outside, something might be wrong. Or, you might suspect a problem if you notice your heat pump entering emergency heat mode more often on cold days than it used to. In that case, there’s a good chance your heat pump’s impaired and can’t produce the amount of heat it should be capable of.

Another way you can tell that emergency heat mode represents a problem with your heat pump is by looking at your electricity bill. If you’re seeing abnormal cost spikes, the emergency heating mode may be the culprit. This can happen if it comes overnight when you’re not awake to see it, and this is the easiest way to tell. Then, you can have your heat pump serviced to make sure it’s working properly.

The final way you can tell when emergency heat mode represents a problem is if your heat pump refuses to leave the mode. The only time that’s normal is if you’ve activated emergency heat mode from your thermostat or it’s a very cold day. If that’s not the case, you’ll want to have your heat pump serviced immediately. If you don’t, you run the risk of further damaging your heat pump and ending up with soaring electricity bills.

Trust the Heat Pump Experts

Now you know just about all there is to know about the emergency heat mode on heat pumps. And you should be able to tell when to worry if you notice your home’s heat pump operating in that mode. If you suspect that your heat pump has a problem, you should contact the experts here at Apollo Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning right away. We install, maintain, and repair all makes and models of heat pumps. Our highly-trained technicians have the tools and knowledge to get to the bottom of your heat pump problems and solve them immediately. And that’s not all.

As the premier home services provider in the Oregon, Washington, and Idaho areas, we also offer various other services to keep your home in great shape. In addition to comprehensive HVAC services, we also offer complete plumbing services, including dealing with clogged pipes and the installation and repair of water heaters. We even provide complete air quality services and solutions, should your home require them.

We have offices in Troutdale, OR, Vancouver, WA, and Eagle, ID. So, if your heat pump gets stuck in emergency heating mode or has any other problem that needs fixing, contact the experts here at Apollo Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning today!

Meet the Author
Brandon Bird
Brandon Bird

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