So you have a brand spankin’ new high-efficiency heat pump and you’re ready to see it in action this winter. Well, be forewarned that it’s about to start smoking, burning, and freezing into an ice sculpture (surprisingly, this is all normal activity). You saw it work great in the summer, but there are several noticeable changes you should know about when it starts efficiently heating your home in colder temperatures.

General Heat Pump Info

Despite the exterior similarities, heat pumps are a different kind of beast when compared to tradeitin’brand-spankional air conditioning units. They just like a standard AC in the hot summer months, but have the capability of a hybrid unit to heat your home and help your furnace during colder months. They do this by sucking as much warm air from outside as possible, using only electricity, and significantly lowering your utility bill.

Burning Smell

This generally happens with all furnaces, but you might not experience the burning smell in your home until later in the winter when temperatures start to fall dramatically. Usually, when you start your furnace up for the first time in the fall/winter season, you’ll have some dust particles and other matter that have fallen into the furnace over the summer. This will be burned up during the initial days of running in the winter. The initial burn-off won’t occur in heat-pump systems until later, simply because your heat pump has been doing the furnace’s job! Only during really cold months does the furnace start pumping fuel to heat your home. This is when you’ll be surprised with “EMERGENCY HEAT” appearing on your thermostat.

Emergency Heat

“What the heck does emergency heat mean?! Should I collect the cats and run to uncle Leo’s?!” Don’t freak out when you see this on your thermostat (you and your cats are perfectly safe). The “Emergency Heat” light comes on when the inside fuel-driven furnace has been activated and the outdoor heat pump shuts off. This happens because at a certain temperature it’s inefficient to heat the household with only the heat pump’s power. The term “Emergency Heat” may be misleading to say the last, but it is essentially just notifying you that your fuel furnace is now heating your home instead of your heat pump.

Frozen Heat Pump

Probably the most dramatic effect (literally dramatic; people have called us screaming frantically about this) is when a heat pump is solidified into an ice sculpture! We usually repeat this statement over, but it always bears repeating: This is completely normal! Why would this ever be considered normal? Simple chemistry and physics, dear Watson! Since the outside unit is pulling every possible unit of heat from the outside air, it leaves the air and moisture very, very cold. If the conditions are just right, the leftover moisture will start freezing and building layer upon layer of ice on your heat pump. Luckily, the engineers who designed these noticed the freezing situation, so a defroster was installed! The heat pump defroster will kick in after excessive build-up is recognized, so your system will automatically thaw out (this is when you’ll start seeing “smoke” but it’s just steam from melting ice). If do happen to notice that your system is still frozen after 30 minutes, call a service technician to have it looked at.

While it might have a couple of quirks, the heat pump system is definitely worth the extra dollars. If you want to lower your utility bill during the winter months, or if you live in an area where temperatures change drastically in the blink of an eye (ahem, St. Louis), a heat pump is a fantastic addition to your home. Call us today for more info or check out

Stay warm this season!

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