This is one of the many subjects I intended to write about when I started my blog a year ago. Well a year later with a whopping 2 posts to my credit, I shall finally deliver on my promise to myself to tackle this project. Nothing says persistence like failing at a new year's resolution and picking it up the following year and giving it another go, right?
Considering the polar vortex plaguing the nation at the moment (I live in Arkansas and this morning when I woke up it was 6 degrees out. I assure you that is NOT normal!) I feel I'm a little late with this post as it should start warming up a bit later today, but we've still got more winter to deal with and if this helps one person out it's worth my time.
My family lives in a new house, but our old house was small and well . . .old. Like many folks in our part of the country our only source of heat in winter was a heat pump. Now, I'm not an HVAC expert and if I were a bit more pulled together I would consult with someone on this, but I'm certain that basic information on how a heat pump works is readily available online. What I DO know about them is that they don't work super effectively when the temp gets much below freezing. Especially in an older home with little to no insulation. So for the many years we lived there on those few really cold days of the winter keeping the temperature 70 degrees in the house just wasn't happening. Usually the outdoor temp would only drop overnight, then warm up during the day to a temperature that the heat pump could handle. I think if we were still living there with the near 48 hours of frigid Arctic temperatures we're having yesterday and today I would be doing well to get the indoor temp to 60 degrees. That sounds plenty warm, but try it for a few days . . .not so much, especially if you're cold natured. So what's a Mom to do? I figured out a trick several years ago that would run my electric bill up a tad, but this was during times when that wasn't a concern of mine. My concern was warming my house up to a reasonable temp when I had small children at home to care for. Have the same problem? Read on . . .
If you have a heat pump, you should see a couple of settings on your thermostat that say auxiliary heat and emergency heat. Please forgive me if I explain this incorrectly (again, NOT an HVAC person . . .just a Mom and home designer), but explaining this part isn't the whole point of this post. A heat pump serves as an air conditioner in the summer and as a heat source in the winter by running like an air conditioner in reverse. When it reaches a certain temperature it can't produce enough heat by it's normal method to heat a home to the normal desired temperature. I believe the actual temperature when it no longer functions "normally" differs from unit to unit. I've seen a range from around 25-35 degrees. When this happens, the auxiliary heat should kick on. This means that the unit (if an electric unit, like mine was) will supplement with heat strips. As far as I understand, heat strips are just that . . ."strips" of coiled up metal that is heated using electricity. Then air is blown over them to add more heat to the home. NO, this isn't cheap! Emergency heat is when only the heat strips are used and the pump is not. I may end up corrected on some of this, but that should be a basic (and hopefully correct) explanation.
So what did I do with that info? Well, a heat pump is suppose to run a long on and long off cycle. If it were super cold outside the unit would just run and run and not really get the house any warmer. On those super cold days when I noticed the unit wasn't cycling off at all I would do my little cheater method to milk it for all it's worth! In the winter I would normally keep the house at around 68 degrees. It might be 64 or 66 in the house and I would simply switch it onto emergency heat and put the thermostat at around 72-74. It would blow nice warm air for a good while (yes, sucking a lot of electricity at the same time) and would generally get the house to the desired temperature in a reasonable amount of time. When it warmed up to my desired temp and cycled off, I did NOT just leave it there. I would turn it off emergency heat and put the thermostat back down to 66 or 68. As long as no one was going in and out and opening doors, I could usually go a LONG stretch of time before the temp dropped back down to where it felt too cool. There's sort of a trade off when doing this. It costs a lot of money to run emergency heat, but I decided I could either leave it off and the unit itself would kick onto auxiliary and it still wouldn't keep the house as warm as I wanted and it would run all day (while I paid for it to run all day). OR I could pay more for 45 minutes or so while it warmed my house up and then pay nothing for the several hours when the unit would be totally cycled off while the house cooled back down. I figure in the end it may have cost a little more or maybe the same, but my goal wasn't low cost at the time, it was warmth! I would rather pay a little bit more and be comfortable, than pay just a little less and be uncomfortable. I'm not saying this will work for every house, but it worked for me in my old house and I've given this tip to more than a few people over the years who found it helpful.
So what next? Well, if you stay in that house with that same unit there is no next except to look forward to warmer weather! However, if your family takes a next step of building a new house, I strongly recommend you look at geothermal heat pumps. I'm heating a cooling a house almost three times the size of our old home for a slightly higher cost each month. We had to switch power companies and I suspect that accounts for part of the increase. However, running three units instead of one and it not costing three times as much (or even 1 1/2 times as much) is well worth it in my book. My pointers regarding these: 1. Do wells for your ground loop. 2. Don't balk at the price. It's well worth it. This might give a clearer picture: Electrically speaking, a conventional unit requires a 100 amp breaker. Each of my geo units requires only a 30 amp breaker. Big difference! Considering they pull around 7-9 amps under normal operation that's a no brainer. Throw in the fact that they're not phased by outdoor air temps (b/c they're pulling heat from a near constant heat source . . .the ground) . . .well, again . . .a no brainer. I could have it 80 degrees in here and these would keep it just where I wanted it. I don't want it 80 degrees in here, though . . .just in case anyone thought that. I'm crazy, but not that kind of crazy! ; )
Another thing to consider is wood heat. I regrettably did NOT put a fireplace or any source of wood burning heat in this new home and I seriously regret it. I already have dreams of an addition where I enclose the existing carport and place a lovely, large Rumford fireplace at one end and create a more spacious main living area. But I digress, and that is just a dream at the moment. But who are we without dreams?! As far as a discussion on wood heat . . .I do believe that's a topic for another post.
Stay warm out there! Here I'm staying . . .devoted to design,
Megan : )
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