For heat, I need the recirculation on?

I bought a 2003 Element (with less than 33K miles!) just a few weeks ago, and I love it. But I’m having an intermittent heat problem. I drove to work (about 25 miles) one cold morning unable to get heat. The fan worked great, though. That morning, when I turned the engine over, the temperature control dial was turned all the way counterclockwise (toward blue), but the A/C light was not on. I turned the temperature control dial all the way clockwise (all red), but no matter where I set the mode control dial, or how high or low the fan was running, no heat came out.

After work, I drove to the grocery store (about 5 miles away from work), and was still unable to get heat. I got a bowl of hot soup at Whole Foods, and while I was eating it in the parking lot, I turned the engine over and hit the recirculation button. In just a few minutes, heat galore.

Yesterday, driving through the city, the same thing happened - when I started the engine with the temperature control dial turned all the way counterclockwise, I couldn’t get heat, even though I subsequently turned it all the way clockwise. It didn’t start working until I hit the recirculation button.

When I start the engine and the temperature control dial is already turned clockwise, I get heat without having to recirculate.

Any ideas what this could be? In a nutshell: my Element seems sometimes to have a problem knowing when it should be blowing heat (rather than an issue of not being able to make heat).

I’m guessing if you hit the recirc button, and then turn it back off when you start getting heat, you still get heat, right?

I think so, but I’ll double check this afternoon.

Does the engine warm up to proper running temperature?

Yes. The temperature gauge arrow is in the middle of the range in just a few minutes after turning the engine over.