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How Often Should a Heat Pump Cycle on & Off? Factors, Tips & FAQs

Outdoor air conditioning and heat pump units

Heat pumps are a new and more efficient form of HVAC systems, but it can be tricky to understand how they work compared to a traditional system. One thing you might be wondering about is how many times a heat pump cycles on and off per hour.

How long should a heat pump run? Your heat pump should turn on and off about two to three times an hour if it’s not below freezing outside. If it is, the heat pump may stay on continuously to keep your home comfortably heated.

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What Determines How Often a Heat Pump Cycles?

Your heat pump doesn’t run in a vacuum, and other factors have to be taken into account when considering how often your heat pump should cycle. These variables include:

Things to consider

  • Outdoor temperature
  • Your home’s age
  • Heat pump age
  • Heat pump size

Outdoor Temperature

When it’s too cold outside, your heat pump may just stay on indefinitely. If it were to cycle during this time, it wouldn’t be able to keep your home warm with how cold it is outside. This is totally normal and nothing to worry about.

Your Home’s Age

Older homes tend to have less efficient insulation. To combat this, your heat pump may cycle more frequently to compensate. If you’d like your system to cycle less frequently, consider overhauling your home’s insulation and other parts of the structure.

Heat Pump Age

Heat pumps are relatively new, so older pumps aren’t as efficient as newer models. Old heat pumps cycle more often than old ones to try and maintain the correct temperature. You may wish to upgrade to a newer heat pump if it can’t keep up anymore without excessive cycling.

Two heat pumps outside the house
Image Credit: Nimur, Shutterstock

Heat Pump Size

Heat pumps come in different sizes to better fit various-sized homes. Larger units will cycle more frequently than smaller ones, especially if the unit is too large for your home.

Units that are too small for your home, conversely, will work too hard to try and maintain the temperature. This leads to a shorter effective lifespan.

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Is It Okay if My Heat Pump Runs Continuously?

We already mentioned that heat pumps may run constantly if the temperature is below freezing, but what about other times? It’s absolutely not normal for your heat pump to constantly run during normal conditions.

Pay attention to if your heat pump cycles for 5 minutes or less, cuts off for a few minutes, then starts up again. This is called short cycling, and it’s a sign that your heat pump needs repairs.

Short cycling wastes an astronomical amount of electricity, and if you ignore the problem, you’ll get a nasty surprise on your electricity bill. Short cycling alone can add hundreds or thousands of dollars to your annual energy bill, so it’s not a minor problem that you should ignore.

Not only does short cycling waste power, but it hurts your heat pump too. Short-cycling heat pumps are running more strenuously than they normally do, putting extra wear and tear on the components within.

heat pump outside the house
Image Credit: HarmvdB, Pixabay

How to Prevent Short Cycling

While short cycling is sometimes caused by mechanical faults in the pump, many times there are steps you can take to minimize or stop it. Let’s check out a few ways to remedy a short-cycling heat pump.

Tips for Preventing Short Cycling:

  • Improve your home’s energy efficiency. You can do this by upgrading your insulation, sealing air gaps in the house, or adding moisture barriers.
  • Have your pump serviced regularly. Heat pumps can develop issues over time. Plus, a problem stemming from improper installation could have gotten worse. Either way, professionals will be able to spot critical problems worth your attention.
  • Change your air filter. Sometimes a short-cycling system is simply overworking itself to compensate for a clogged air filter. Be sure to change your air filter monthly.
  • Use your thermostat presets. Cool mode is the most efficient thermostat mode during the summer, while heat mode is the most efficient during the winter. Auto mode isn’t always as useful as you would think.


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Heat pumps are a new energy-efficient way to heat and cool our homes, but they’re not without their problems. A typical heat pump should only cycle two or three times per hour, but they can start to short cycle. Be sure to keep an eye on your heat pump and ensure it is always in good working condition.

Featured Image Credit: Christian Delbert, Shutterstock


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