Should a Heat Pump Run Constantly in Winter?

In Cedar Rapids Iowa, an increasing number of homeowners are turning to heat pumps for their remarkable benefits, from energy efficiency to year-round comfort. However, one aspect of heat pump operation that often raises questions and causes confusion is how they perform during the cold winter months. Specifically, homeowners often wonder: “Should a heat pump run constantly in winter?”

At Novak Heating and Cooling, we understand the importance of clarity when it comes to your HVAC system’s performance. In this blog, we’ll answer this top question and provide more insights into what you can expect from your system during our chilly Iowa winters.

A Quick Refresher on How Heat Pumps Work

Ground-source heat pumps and air-source heat pumps are incredibly versatile HVAC systems that provide both heating and cooling for your home. A heat pump works by transferring heat between indoor and outdoor environments, making them highly energy-efficient. Here’s a simplified explanation of how heat pumps work:

  1. Heat Transfer: Regardless of the season, heat pumps are designed to transfer warm air. Unlike traditional heating systems, they can absorb heat from the outdoor air (air-source heat pump) or the ground (ground-source heat pump) and bring it inside your home during the winter. In the summer, the process is reversed, and they remove heat energy from inside your home and release it outside.
  2. Refrigeration Cycle: Heat pumps use a refrigeration cycle, similar to the one in your refrigerator but in reverse. This cycle involves the circulation of a refrigerant, which can absorb and release heat efficiently. When in heating mode, the refrigerant extracts heat from the outdoor air or ground and carries it inside, where it’s distributed to warm your living spaces.
  3. Distribution: The warmed or cooled air is distributed throughout your home through a network of ducts or a ductless system. This ensures that each room reaches the desired temperature, providing you with comfort.
  4. Energy Efficiency: One of the significant advantages of heat pumps is their energy efficiency. A heat pump HVAC system moves heat instead of generating it through combustion or electrical resistance, making it more efficient and environmentally friendly than a natural gas furnace. In heating mode, heat pumps can be up to three times more efficient than traditional electric heating systems.
  5. Thermostat Control: A thermostat allows you to set your desired indoor temperature. The heat pump system will continuously monitor the temperature and adjust its operation to maintain the desired comfort level.

Should a Heat Pump Run Constantly in Winter?

How a heat pump behaves in freezing temperatures depends on several factors, including temperature, thermostat settings, and the specific design of your system. Let’s explore each one to provide a clearer understanding of heat pump technology:

Outdoor Temperature

Heat pumps are designed to work efficiently in a range of temperatures. However, as the outdoor temperature drops, their efficiency decreases. Most cold-climate heat pumps have a “balance point,” which is the outdoor temperature at which they can provide adequate heat without supplementary sources. Below this temperature, which varies depending on the system, the heat pump may run more frequently to maintain indoor comfort.

Thermostat Settings

The thermostat settings in your home play a crucial role in determining how often your heat pump runs. If you set the thermostat to a higher temperature during winter, the heat pump will need to run more often to maintain that temperature. Conversely, setting it a bit lower can reduce the workload on the heat pump and save on energy costs.

Energy Efficiency

Heat pumps are designed to operate efficiently, but constant running can lead to increased energy consumption and higher utility bills. Some homeowners may opt for a slightly lower indoor temperature and use supplementary heating sources, like electric resistance heaters, if needed, to reduce the load on the heat pump in winter.

Supplementary Heating

In extremely cold conditions, many heat pump systems are equipped with supplementary heating elements, such as electric resistance heaters. These elements can provide additional warmth when the heat pump’s efficiency declines due to low outdoor temperatures. The use of supplementary or emergency heat can help maintain indoor comfort without constant heat pump operation.

Maintenance and System Health

Regular maintenance is essential to ensure your heat pump is operating optimally. Dust, debris, and wear and tear can affect its performance. A well-maintained heat pump in winter is more likely to operate efficiently and may not need to run constantly to meet heating demands.

Insulation and Home Efficiency

The overall energy efficiency of your home can impact how often your heat pump needs to run. Well-insulated homes with minimal air leaks require less heating, reducing the workload on the heat pump.

When to Call for Professional Assistance

If your heat pump runs continuously in cold temperatures, it’s crucial to contact an HVAC technician for a thorough assessment. While it’s expected for a heat pump to operate more frequently in colder weather, constant running can be a sign of underlying issues that require professional attention.

These issues may include efficiency problems, thermostat or control malfunctions, improper refrigerant levels, airflow restrictions, supplementary heating system failures, or even a sizing mismatch for your home’s heating needs. A skilled HVAC technician can diagnose and resolve these issues, ensuring your cold climate heat pump operates efficiently and effectively, ultimately providing you with the comfort and warmth you need during the winter months.

Call Novak for a Heat Pump Tune-Up Today

Routine maintenance is key to keeping your heat pump operating at its best, and Novak Heating and Cooling is here to help you with professional heat pump tune-ups. As a general rule, heat pumps should be tuned up twice a year to ensure optimal performance and efficiency.

When you schedule a heat pump tune-up with us, our experienced technician will conduct a comprehensive inspection and perform any necessary repairs. This includes air filter replacements, coil cleaning, motor lubrication, belt inspection, electrical component inspection, refrigerant level checks, and thermostat testing. Regular maintenance offers numerous benefits, such as preventing costly repairs, reducing unexpected breakdowns, lowering energy bills, and prolonging the system’s lifespan.

For added convenience and peace of mind, consider our Worry-Free Maintenance Program, which offers pre-scheduled seasonal tune-ups and maintenance contracts with priority scheduling and reduced rates. It’s a hassle-free way to keep your heat pump in top condition during hot or cold weather.

Contact Novak Heating and Cooling today to schedule your heat pump tune-up in Cedar Rapids, IA, or ask about our exclusive maintenance contract.