What Temperature Does a Heat Pump Stop Working?

As winter reaches its peak in New England, homeowners with ductless heat pumps may wonder how their systems will fare in extreme cold weather. Keep reading to learn how heat pumps work, what happens when temperatures plummet, and practical tips for adding supplemental heating on the harshest winter days.

Heat Pumps Don’t Actually Stop Working 

Contrary to popular belief, heat pumps don’t ever stop working when it’s cold. These systems are built to withstand frigid weather, operating at 100% efficiency even down to -13 degrees Fahrenheit.

What Happens Instead? 

If temperatures drop below that threshold, the system just won’t produce enough heat to keep your house warm, even at max capacity. This happens with all heating systems, including central HVAC. With a furnace-based system, it too continues operating even when the weather is impossibly cold, but it just can’t keep up with brutal temps.

The point at which a system becomes unable to keep a home comfortable differs between traditional and ductless. Mini-splits can maintain functionality and keep you warm in much lower temperatures than central or any other kind of heating.

How Supplemental Heating Can Help Keep You Comfortable 

No matter what type of heating system you have, it’s always a good idea to have a backup in case your primary source of heat malfunctions. But you can also use backup heating when it’s too cold out for your main heater to keep up with the increased demand.

Types of Supplemental Heat to Consider 

There are many types of supplemental heat that you can use in addition to a ductless system, like:

  • Electric space heaters. Electric space heaters are inexpensive and provide instant heat as soon as you plug them in. They’re portable and convenient, but do carry a high risk of home fires.
  • Wood and pellet stoves. Old wood stoves and newer pellet stoves make great supplemental heaters and add a cozy ambiance. They do produce a lot of particulate matter and can contribute to deforestation though, so using them sparingly is better than using them as a primary heating source. 
  • Fireplaces. Traditional fireplaces burn wood like a stove, while electric fireplaces function similarly to space heaters. Both can give you extra warmth on super cold days. 
  • Radiant floor heating. If you have the budget to outfit your home with an advanced backup heating source, radiant floor heat is a great way to go. Not only does this system provide efficient, even heating, it keeps your floors toasty warm. No more cold feet in the winter! 

Many homeowners keep their existing heating system as a backup when switching to ductless instead of having it removed. For example, if you had baseboard heating before you had your mini-split installed, you can turn on your radiators in the rare case that your ductless unit needs help.

How to Know If There’s a Real Problem 

While bitterly cold days can make it tough for your heating system to keep up, it’s important to know how to differentiate the need for supplemental heat from actual problems with your unit.

The best course of action is preventative maintenance. This can help catch potential issues early and give you enough time to have them fixed before the heating season is well underway. Other signs that can indicate a problem include:

  • Strange odors or noises coming from your heating system
  • Weird noises like banging or clanging inside your furnace
  • The heater fan isn’t blowing air
  • Your system short cycles
  • Condensation on your windows
  • Signs of animal activity around your furnace, like chewed wires
  • Leaking water around your furnace

Other problems that are common with malfunctioning systems, like cold spots and high energy bills, are normal when temperatures are bottomed out. These shouldn’t last a long time though – as soon as the weather warms up a bit, your system should return to its normal operation. If it doesn’t, this is another possible indicator that it’s not just the cold and there is something else wrong with your unit. 

Heat Pump Out of Order? Call N.E.T.R., Inc. 

If your heat pump needs maintenance or you just want to make sure everything is working properly before a cold snap hits, don’t hesitate to contact the experienced Mitsubishi Electric Elite Diamond contractors at N.E.T.R., Inc. Our team is committed to providing you with reliable, energy-efficient heating, even on the coldest winter days. Contact us today by calling (781) 933-6387 to get answers to your important questions.