Five tips to get the most out of your heat pump during a cold snap

by Rachel Hansen | Feb 06, 2024

When it’s cold outside, about 40% of your electricity bill is from heating. A heat pump is one of the most important systems in your home – it keeps you cozy, and your electricity bill affordable.

A heat pump works by moving heat around by using the refrigeration cycle. On most systems, there’s an outdoor compressor or fan unit that moves warm air into the home, even in cold temperatures. An inside air handler cycles warm air throughout the home.

About 48% of the homes in Chelan County are heated with heat pumps. Heat pumps are more efficient than most other systems, but they can still increase your bill if they aren’t used properly. When in doubt, call your HVAC provider.

Here are a few tips to stay warm, save money on your bill, and keep your heat pump system running well.

Don’t rely on e-heat mode

Emergency heat is intended to keep you warm when your heat pump is broken or iced over. When you manually set the emergency heat on your thermostat, the outside unit shuts down and the back-up heating system turns on. The back-up heating system uses an electric heat strip that basically turns your air handler into an electric furnace.

Normally, your heat pump cycles on and off. In e-heat mode, your back-up heating element blasts hot air constantly, which puts a lot of strain on the HVAC equipment and uses about double the amount of electricity. 

In the past, HVAC pros told customers to shut off the heat pump below 30 degrees, but that’s not the case anymore. Heat pumps are designed to automatically cycle into emergency heat mode as needed, said Steve Lange, a Performance Tested Comfort Systems technician at Columbia Cooling and Refrigeration.

“If programmed and installed properly, thermostats will bring on the back-up heat on their own as the heat pump needs help,” Lange said. “Just set it and forget it. Let your equipment do what it was designed to do.”

If the heat pump can’t maintain warmth in your home without emergency heat mode, call a professional.

Change the filter

Clogged filters make your heating system less efficient. Generally, most air filter manufacturers and HVAC companies recommend changing your air filter every one to three months. Consider changing them more often if you have pets, live in a dry and dusty area, or if you own an older system.

Promote better air flow

Keep the interior doors open in your house to promote better air flow and heat your home more evenly.

Keep the outside unit clear of snow

Shovel a wide berth around your outside unit to maintain good air flow. Watch for drip zones where a lot of snow and ice fall into the equipment. 

A little surface frost or ice on the outside of the unit is expected and normal. Your system is designed to manage this with automatic defrost cycles.

“If you find that your heat pump develops large bands of solid ice around the unit, or is making unusual noises, turn to emergency heat and call a qualified technician,” said Paul Rodgers of Patriot Plumbing, Heating and Cooling.

Building a proper "snow" shelter is advised in high snow fall areas. Consult the manufacturer or a local HVAC professional for recommendations and guidelines before you install a shelter.

Keep the heat in, eliminate drafts

Give your heat pump a break with a few simple fixes that will also save you a lot of money on your electric bill.

  • Door socks: Place blankets or towels by the door to prevent the cold air from drafting in and the heat from escaping.
  • Close the shades: Close your drapes to retain heat. If it’s sunny during the day, open the drapes to capture warmth from the sun.
  • Close the damper: Fireplaces are designed to move heat quickly up the chimney. When you’re not using it, keep it closed so it doesn’t suck the heat out of your home.
  • Insulate your attic: If you can see your ceiling joists, add more insulation and save up to 75% of the heat in your home.
  • AC units are out: If you still have an AC unit in your window, remove it and close the window.
  • Close foundation vents for winter. If your vents don’t close, taping a piece of plastic on the outside will help considerably.

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Rachel Hansen: (509) 661-4320
Libby Siebens: (509) 661-8291

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