Tips for using your heat pump

Installing a heat pump is the first step in ensuring you have the most efficient technology to meet your home's heating and cooling needs. Using your heat pump properly and maintaining it regularly will offer you the best performance, energy savings, and the most lifespan out of your unit.

Seasonal tips

An attractive feature of a heat pump is its cooling ability. In the cooling cycle, the heat pump transfers heat out of your home.

Heat pumps are very efficient at cooling; the higher the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) rating of a unit, the more efficient the unit is at cooling. Heat pumps can be up to 50% more energy efficient than a typical window AC unit. Using your heat pump efficiently will help you continue to enjoy energy savings.

Use air conditioning only when you need it

If your home does not require air conditioning, simply shut off your heat pump. You can try other ways to keep your home cool like closing window blinds and curtains in the mornings and afternoons to keep the cool air in. In the evening when the outside temperature is cooler than inside, place fans near a window, preferably downstairs, to pull cooler air through the home and push the hot air out through other open windows.

On the hottest summer days, when you use your heat pump for air conditioning, continue to close window blinds and curtains during the mornings and afternoons to help reduce the cooling load.

Check your filters

Cooling requires more airflow than heating. If your filter is dirty, your system will have to work harder to keep you comfortable. It's also good practice to clean any visible dust and dirt from the air returns at the top of your indoor head. Over time the dust and dirt will build up on the filters and affect the performance and airflow of your system.

Switch your central system to "Circulate only"

A central heat pump system has a circulation mode that will move the cool air from the basement to other warmer areas of the home. This can be an inexpensive way to keep your home cooler without the using the "air conditioning" mode.

If your home experiences overheating in the summer, it can be a sign of inadequate insulation. Consider a Home Energy Evaluation to help identify areas in your home that would benefit from improved insulation and air sealing.

Minimize changes in the temperature setting

Set it and forget it. Heat pumps are most efficient when maintaining a set temperature. Find the right setting and then leave it alone to do the work.

Turning the temperature setting down at night or when you're away during the day, like work or school, isn't recommended – which can be a big change if you're used to managing a baseboard heating or gas furnace system. Ductless heat pumps aren't designed to quickly raise the temperature. Much like a car getting better gas mileage when driving at a steady speed, your mini-split heat pump operates more efficiently this way.

The same is true for central heat pumps if trying to quickly heat the home in a short time. If you're attempting to increase the temperature by more than 2°C, it may not be able to supply all of the heat required and will rely on the back-up heating source until the heat pump 'catches up.' Electric back-up heating sources can be more expensive to operate and this will reduce the savings you would expect to have by using a heat pump. If you're going to be away for longer than 24 hours, you can turn your heat pump temperature down during your absence and gradually increase the temperature by 2°C at a time when you return.

Focus on your comfort and not the temperature setting

Heat pump systems heat the surrounding air differently than baseboard heaters and forced-air furnaces.

If you have a mini-split system, the temperature sensor on the mini-split indoor heat is closer to the ceiling where the air is naturally warmer. For that reason, you may find that you need to set the temperature higher than you would have with baseboard heaters.

The air from a central heat pump is cooler than the air heated by a furnace. Heat pumps provide air in larger quantities at about 25°C to 45°C and tend to operate for longer periods. Set your heat pump to a comfortable temperature, then adjust the setting up or down over the course of a few days until you find the temperature setting that feels right for you.

Turn down your back-up heating system and maximize your heat pump use

Your heat pump is the more efficient system and should be set to do most of the heating in your home. Your back-up heating system may be more expensive to run and should be used as a true 'back-up' source when needed. Turn down the temperature setting on your back up source to come on at least 5°C lower than your heat pump temperature.

Maximize your heat pump by using it to heat as much of your home as it can handle. A heat pump is on average 200% more efficient than electric baseboard heating. Allow the heat pump to heat multiple rooms by turning up the fan and keeping bedrooms doors open. Direct the air flow downwards to promote circulation of the warm air. You might be surprised by how much of your home a heat pump can heat. It's a great way to reduce your home's heating costs.

General tips – System settings and maintenance

Avoid using "Auto" mode

Set the heat pump mode to "Heat" in the winter and "Cool" in the summer, rather than "Automatic" mode, for increased efficiency. Automatic mode will automatically switch between heating and cooling based on indoor temperatures. Your system could start cooling on a sunny winter afternoon or heating on a cool summer night. Once you find a comfortable temperature setting on either "heat" or "cool" mode, you can set it and forget it to maximize efficiency.

The "Auto fan" is a separate setting and is fine to use.

Get regular maintenance and inspections

Just like all other heating systems, regular maintenance will ensure your heat pump remains in peak working order and will provide you with efficient, cost-effective heating. Your heat pump manual will provide guidance on how to set your system up optimally for your needs and recommended maintenance schedule.

Schedule your installer follow-up or maintenance visit in the season opposite to when you first installed your system. The installer will check the system settings to ensure they're set for optimal efficiency and comfort and make adjustments as needed.

They can adjust the thermostat settings to use the heat pump preferentially, and check the outdoor unit mounting for cracks, damage and that it's clear of debris. Use the visit to have them answer your questions.

Consider scheduling regular maintenance every one to two years.

Clean filters regularly

Heat pumps work best when dust filters are clean. Consult your heat pump's user manual on how to clean your unit. Cleaning frequency will depend on your system type (as an example, central systems ingest more dirt from returns on the floor), whether or not you own pets, the number of occupants in your home, etc. Filters on indoor units should be cleaned several times a year and replaced once a year. Cleaning a filter can improve the airflow in your home by as much as 30%.

Ensure airflow to the outdoor unit is not restricted

It's good practice to check on the outdoor unit at the start of every season. Inspect your outdoor unit to ensure it's free of obstruction from debris, tall grass, leaves, etc. to allow for free airflow to the outdoor unit. The heat pump will operate most efficiently when airflow can move freely around the outdoor unit. In the winter season, ensure the outdoor unit is above the snow and away from dripping water. Clear away snow to prevent freezing damage to the coil.


Download this print-ready version of the heat pump maintenance tips [PDF, 42 KB].