Australia can get surprisingly cold in winter, and because so many people now work from home, many of us are turning to our air conditioners to warm us up.
But how does this work exactly? What is heat mode in your AC system?
What is heat mode in my AC system?
Heat mode is when an air conditioner produces warm air. It does this using reverse cycle technology which reverses the refrigeration cycle in the system. This works in the following way:
A cold liquid called refrigerant passes through an external coil, absorbing heat from the air outside.
- The refrigerant is pumped by a compressor down through chambers and into a condenser.
- As the refrigerant is compressed, it warms up, creating hot air.
- This hot air is pushed into the room by a fan to warm the area.
When functioning in regular cool mode, the flow of refrigerant is reversed in the system.
The beauty of a reverse cycle air conditioner is that it can cool you down in the summer, and warm you up in the winter. This is especially useful for colder parts of Australia like Melbourne and Adelaide, where scorching summers and cold winters are common. They are also a great way to save money and space in your home, because you won’t need to buy individual heaters for each room, and you won’t need to place them anywhere. On the downside, they have a much higher upfront cost compared to heaters, and they can be on the noisy side. But the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. Thankfully most modern air conditioners have reverse cycle technology.
In some air conditioners (such as certain Mitsubishi units), you can also produce warm air by setting the unit to “auto mode.” This setting will either use cool or warm air depending on the system’s temperature setting compared to the temperature of the room. Once the desired temperature is achieved, the system’s inverter will stop.
What is the AC heat mode symbol?
The AC heat mode symbol is usually depicted as a sun, but differs slightly depending on the system’s manufacturer. Some opt for the word “HEAT” instead. Both are obvious and easy to remember when your toes feel like they’re about to fall off.
Here are the various heat mode symbols that you can expect to see on your remote or wall-mounted controller, based on the best quality AC systems:
How to activate heat mode for your AC
To activate heat mode for your AC, simply press the sun icon button, the “HEAT” button, or whichever button is relevant on your remote or wall controller. The AC system will likely stop, spend a few minutes reversing the refrigeration cycle, and then start producing heat.
What AC temperature should I set for heat mode?
The average temperature you should set for heat mode is 19°C, but this changes depending on which state you live in. As you might expect, the cooler your state, the higher the temperature should be set, but this only really changes by a few degrees.
Here’s a breakdown of optimal heat mode temperatures broken down by state:
Optimal heating temperature
North QLD, North WA, NT, and central Australia
SE QLD and NE NSW
19°C to 20°C
SE NSW, NE VIC and ACT
How much does your AC’s heat mode cost?
An air conditioner’s reverse cycle function costs anywhere between $0.13 to $0.36 per hour to run. This is substantially cheaper than gas heaters ($0.43 to $0.51 per hour) and electric heaters ($0.50 to $0.60), making it a clear winner when trying to keep electricity costs down. According to Canstar, a reverse cycle air conditioner can even be cheaper to run than a microwave.1
AC heat mode not working—how to fix
If your AC’s heat mode isn’t working, it could be due to a variety of issues:
- The system is in cooling mode—this is a common one. Make sure that heat mode is actually activated using your remote or wall-mounted controller. It’s usually activated using the button with the sun icon.
- The system is old and doesn’t support heating—older systems didn’t have reverse cycle capabilities. So if your system is really old, heating may not be supported.
- Extremely clogged filters—when your AC’s filters are highly clogged, it’s much harder for air to pass through them. It’s recommended to clean your filters once a month, or more frequently if you live in a particularly dusty or polluted environment.
- The system needs to be reset—try resetting the system by turning it off at the circuit breaker, and then on again.
- You’re trying to use different modes for different units—if you have a multihead split system, where multiple indoor units use a single outdoor unit (compressor), you won’t be able to use both heat mode and cool mode on two separate units at the same time, because they all use the same refrigeration cycle.
The system needs to be fixed—if all else fails, you probably need an air conditioning technician to take a look. A part may have failed in the system.
- Megan Birot, 2020, How to Use Your Air Conditioner for Heating, Canstar Blue