When Should I Switch My Heat Pump Thermostat to Emergency Heat? [FAQ]

Short answer: You should only set your heat pump’s thermostat to “emergency heat” when your heat pump stops heating altogether.

And in that case, you should also call a professional for help.

Otherwise, just keep your thermostat set on “heat.” There is no temperature to switch it over to emergency heat, even if your heat pump is running constantly due to cold weather.

Long answer: If you’re not familiar with heat pumps work, here’s an extended answer that explains the reasoning behind our short answer.

How a heat pump works and why it matters

A heat pump is basically an air conditioner that can work in reverse to heat your home. It moves heat around from one place to another. In winter, it moves heat from the outside to inside your home.

But when it gets below 40°F outside, your heat pump struggles to extract heat from the outside to meet the heating requirements you have set on your thermostat.

To make up the cold weather, your heat pump starts using a backup heat source to supplement its heating efforts. Most heat pumps use a strip of electric heat coils (like ones in a toaster) as a backup.

However, those electric coils use a ton of electricity. That means higher energy bills for you.

So, what’s this got to do with the emergency heat mode? Read on.

Emergency heat=using the electric heat strip constantly

OK, so when you turn your thermostat to emergency heat, your heat pump will stop trying to extract heat from outside to heat your home inside. Instead, it will use ONLY the backup heat strip to heat your home.

So, your heat pump has now become an electric furnace. And those cost you even more money to run than a gas furnace. Basically, you’re paying more to heat your home for the same amount of heat.

Doesn’t make sense, does it? So don’t turn your thermostat to emergency heat unless you have to.

Yes, your heat pump will be running longer when it gets super cold outside. But that’s ok compared to how much money you’d be spending using the heat strip.


“Emergency heat” mode does not mean, “Turn this on when it gets really cold outside.” It means “turn this on when your heat pump stops heating altogether.”

But if your heat pump has a trouble heating, you need to contact a heating contractor in Northern California for help and you may need to install a gas furnace as a more efficient backup heat source.

Get it done quick or you’ll kick yourself when you see your next utility bill.

Service Champions, your local heating and air conditioning company, serves San Jose, Sacramento, East Bay, and the surrounding areas. For more information on any of our products or services, contact us online.

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