Power of Community - Pedernales Electric Cooperative

Getting to know your heat pump

EDITOR'S NOTE: In the following update to his December 2011 post, A reminder for heat pump owners, Energy Service Advisor Chris Denison offers advice for members with questions about their heating systems.

There are basically three different stages of heat pump operation. Your best tool to evaluate performance at each stage is a digital probe cooking thermometer. To know your heat pump, you must know the difference between return air temperature — what goes in your filter grill — and supply air temperature — what comes out of the vents. This is referred to as the "split" temperature.

Chris Denison using thermal imaging device to check heat gain

Denison uses a thermal imaging device to monitor heat gain, but a digital cooking thermometer will allow members to check the temperature of air going into their heat pump system and the temperature of air returned by their system.

Click photo to enlarge. click image to enlarge
  1. Heat pump only: The outside compressor is used to create heat.

    This is the most efficient operation of your heat pump system because it is only using the motor, but is usually only effective when the outside temperature is above 40 degrees. The split temperature between the supply air and the air coming out of your vents should be 25 degrees or more.

  2. Heat pump with auxiliary heat: If you increase the thermostat setting by more than two degrees, the auxiliary heating elements will come on to help the compressor create additional heat. Or if the system is not achieving the desired setting, the auxiliary heat will come on to help. The split temperature should be about 30 degrees depending on the amount of connected heating elements.

    Auxiliary heat will also operate during the system's defrost cycle. If the system is having to defrost frequently, the thermostat should be switched to the emergency heat setting.


  3. Emergency heat: This setting is the most effective at creating heat when the outside temperature is below freezing. It also requires more electricity, so it's more expensive to operate, but because it turns off the outside compressor and operates using only the resistance heating elements, it will achieve comfort and reduce wear and tear on the heat pump system. The split temperature in this setting should be well above 30 degrees, depending on the number of heating elements that are connected.

There are many variables that could impact each one of these functions — factory default parameter settings, adjustments made by your heating, ventilating and air conditioning contractor and how well your equipment performs. Try to find a knowledgeable HVAC contractor who will explain how your system works and help you get the most out of it.

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