How the January cold may have affected your electric bill

Heat pumps are significantly less efficient in freezing temperatures

Central Texas kicked off the new year with a serious chill. As the temperatures dropped, your electric use probably climbed — especially if you have an electric HVAC with a heat pump.

The Austin area experienced the coldest January in 17 years; on average, it was only two-tenths of a degree warmer than the coldest on record. In Johnson City, 11 days saw below-freezing temperatures, and four days had an average temperature below freezing. Because of how heat pumps work, below-freezing temperatures greatly impact how much electricity you use and can result in abnormally high bills.

In cold weather, your heat pump will add heat from a secondary source — called auxiliary heat — to warm your home adequately. Auxiliary heat will run up your energy use — and your bill. Watch the video below to learn more.

To heat your home, the heat pump absorbs heat from outside and delivers it through your indoor coil. This process creates an energy-efficient way to keep your home warm in mild temperatures. When it’s below 35 degrees, heat pumps extract as much heat from the air outside as possible, but they need to add heat from a secondary source, called auxiliary heat, to warm your home adequately. Your heat pump also has an emergency heat mode, but it has to be turned on manually and should only be used in real emergencies when your normal heating functions fail.

This auxiliary mode requires significantly more electricity to run and may also come on when you’re trying to raise the temperature in your home by 3 degrees or more or when your heat pump is in defrost mode. This is why, for many members, January’s exceptionally cold weather may have caused their most recent bill to be much higher than normal.

The recommended thermostat setting is 68 degrees or lower to conserve energy when heating your home. If you need more heat, turn it up only two degrees at a time and ensure the fan is set to ‘auto’ and not ‘on.’ Keep all supply vents open, change filters as needed, and have a certified technician service your unit annually. These steps can reduce the time your HVAC spends in auxiliary heat mode.

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