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What Is Emergency Heating?

Learn when to use emergency heating when you use your heating and air conditioning system.

Closeup of an outdoor HVAC system

Your heating and air conditioning system is designed to operate efficiently within a broad range of winter temperatures as it pulls heat from the outside air to warm the house. When bitterly cold conditions don’t give it much to work with, the system automatically switches into Auxiliary mode and kicks in a supplemental heat source. This will keep your family warm until the heat pump can do its job again.

The Emergency Heat setting bypasses this arrangement and fires up your supplemental heat with one switch. It’s important to note the word “emergency” in this equation, because turning it on shuts down the heat pump. It’s not a setting to turn on just because your feet are a little chilly. Although cold feet may sometimes feel like an emergency, it isn’t a good reason to use this setting!

When Do I Need to Use Emergency Heat?

The good news is you will rarely need to use the Emergency Heat setting. Like its name implies, this mode is intended for worst-case scenarios. The bad news is the worst-case scenario means your heat pump isn’t working.

That being stated, it’s easy to jump to the wrong conclusion about your unit’s performance during the winter. You might assume that there’s a problem because it seems to run constantly. This is actually normal during the cold winter months, and the heat pump’s design allows it to run efficiently for extended cycles.

It also operates a defrost mode that heats the outdoor coil to melt off accumulated ice and restore optimal airflow. This produces a white, steamy smoke that lasts for about 10 minutes, but it’s not a sign of unit failure.

The only time you actually need to switch on the Emergency Heat setting is when the heat pump stops working.

What Happens when I Use Emergency Heat?

Setting the thermostat to Emergency Heat tells the system to completely bypass the heat pump. This fires up the auxiliary part of the unit and keeps the house warm until you can get the system repaired. It cuts off signals to the heat pump so that the electric or gas components remain turned on.

Your thermostat might have a red indicator light that makes certain you are aware of the setting, and there might be a similar signal on the outside unit. The backup system provides plenty of heat, but its operation is expensive compared to the cost of a well-functioning heat pump. You’ll want to call for repairs as soon as you realize there is a problem or the Emergency Heat setting kicks on.

Before flipping that Emergency Heat setting, talk to the HVAC professionals at Morelli Heating and Air Conditioning. We are the best backup for your backup system. Click this link or call our friendly HVAC experts at 843-554-8600, so we can ensure your heater is in top working condition with no need to use the Emergency Heat setting.

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