Every winter, we get phone calls complaining of high electric bills. The first thing I ask is "do you have a heat pump?" Usually, the complaints revolve around electric bills ranging from $500-$1000...for a single month. Customers become desperate for answers as to why their electricity is flushing down the drain, unchecked. With just a basic understanding of how your heat pump works, you can stay on top of your electric bills while avoiding runaway energy consumption.
During a hot summer, it doesn't take long to realize that your air conditioning isn't working. It gets sweaty...quick! Heat pumps are air conditioners, except they work full-time. During the winter, a heat pump reverses it's refrigeration cycle to transfer heat to the inside of your home. A well designed heat pump system is incredibly efficient. Since they run on electricity, they can even be used with solar panels. Plus they don't rely on fossil fuels, hence no carbon footprint.
However, because they rely on refrigeration, heat pumps have their limitations. The colder it is outside, the less energy a heat pump can transfer into your home. Enter "Electric Resistance Heaters". Resistance heaters are installed in heat pump systems as "Auxiliary Heat" in places where the climate can drop below 35F. Resistance heaters are 100% efficient, meaning they convert 100% of the electricity consumed into heat. Sounds great, right?
Not so much...
When the heat pump is running too inefficiently, or worse, when the heat pump is defective, your thermostat calls for the resistance heaters to come on to provide heating. During normal operation, electric heaters run intermittently to aid the heat pump. But when the heat pump stops working, the resistance heaters pick up the slack, and they are left running full-time. Ask any of our customers who see a 200-300% increases in their normal electric bill. Heat pumps can transfer up to 2 to 3 times as much energy in the form of heat as they consume in the process, which explains the spike in energy consumption.
So what can I do to prevent eye-popping electric bills?
First, always keep your thermostats set on "HEAT". Thermostats automatically decide when, and if, "Auxiliary Heat" is needed. You never want to set your thermostat on "Emergency" heat unless you have just that, an emergency. Smart Thermostats, such as the Nest or EcoBee4, have been introduced to the market. They sport energy saving features as well as Wi-Fi connectivity that allows you to manage your system, even while you're away from home. These thermostats are even Energy Star Certified. Maintaining your heat pump is also a major part in avoiding high energy bills. Keeping your heat pump running at optimal levels is key in maintaining efficiency as well as identifying possible imminent failures. With a basic understanding of how your heat pump works and a proper maintenance schedule, you can enjoy efficient heating for years to come.