If you’re searching for a new comfort system, odds are you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and sustainable features of heat pumps. These systems have been sought after in warm climates for decades. But since they use heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom suggests that installing them in cold climates is not sensible. This may have you wondering if a heat pump is the right choice for your home in the Northern U.S. or Canada.
Before going into more detail, rest assured that modern, cold-weather heat pumps are acceptable for northern climates. In the last decade, the adoption of heat pump technology has surged in Northern European countries like Norway and Sweden. With ordinary January temperatures hovering around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these areas obviously depend on efficient heating options. Those who have installed cold-climate heat pumps have found that they fulfill their needs perfectly.
What Makes Cold-Climate Heat Pumps Successful at Low Temperatures?
Heat pump technology was previously too weak for temperate climates. As the temperature fell below freezing, these systems were unfortunately unable to capture enough heat to efficiently warm a house. But this is no longer accurate. Here are the special features designed for cold-climate heat pumps that enable them to operate efficiently at temperatures colder than 0 degrees F.
- Cold-weather coolants have a lower boiling point versus traditional heat pump refrigerants, enabling them to draw more heat energy from cold air.
- Multi-stage compressors function at lower speeds in mild weather and transition to higher speeds in intense cold. This improves efficiency in changing weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more consistent.
- Variable-speed fans use multi-stage compressors to produce heated air at the proper rate.
- The improved coil design found in most modern heat pumps features grooved copper tubing with a larger surface area, enabling the unit to transfer heat more efficiently.
- Flash injection creates a shortcut in the refrigerant loop to increase cold-weather heating performance. Efficiency falls off a bit in this mode, but it’s still much better than counting on a backup electric resistance heater.
- More powerful motors require less electricity to boost energy savings.
- Other engineering upgrades like reduced ambient flow rates, greater compressor capacity and improved compression cycle configurations further decrease energy consumption in icy winter weather.
Traditional Heating Systems vs. Heat Pumps in Colder Climates
Heat pump efficiency is determined by its heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF), which illustrates the total heating output during the heating season divided by the energy consumed for that period. The higher the HSPF, the better the efficiency.
Starting in 2023, the national minimum efficiency rating for heat pumps will be 8.8 HSPF. Many cold-climate heat pumps come with ratings of 10 HSPF or higher, allowing them to operate at up to 400% efficiency in mild weather. In other words, they move four times more energy than they consume in the process.
Performance drops as the temperature drops, but various models are still around 100% efficient in sub-freezing conditions. Compare this to brand-new, high-efficiency furnaces, which top out at about 98% efficiency.
In terms of actual savings, results may vary. The biggest savers are probably people who heat with delivered fuels including propane and oil, as well as those who use electric furnaces or electric baseboard heaters.
That being said, heating with natural gas still is generally less expensive than running a heat pump. The cost gap will depend on how tough the winter is, the utility prices in your area, whether your system was installed correctly and whether you installed solar panels to offset electricity costs.
Other Factors to Think About
If you’re looking at switching from a traditional furnace, boiler or electric heater to a cold-climate heat pump, don't forget these other factors:
- Design and installation: Cold-weather heat pumps are built for efficiency, but they should be sized, designed and installed correctly to perform at their peak. Factors like home insulation levels and the placement of the outdoor unit can also impact system performance.
- Tax credits: You can save on heat pump installation costs with energy tax credits from the federal government. The tax credit amount for qualifying installations is $300 until the end of 2022.
- Solar panels: Heat pumps run on electricity, so they pair well with solar panels. This combination can lower your energy bills even further.
Start Saving with a Cold-Climate Heat Pump
Whether you’re replacing an existing HVAC system or comparing options for a new property, Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning can help you make a cost-effective decision. We’ll assess your home comfort needs, consider your budget and point you toward the best equipment, which may be a cold-climate heat pump or similar product. To ask questions or schedule a heat pump installation estimate, please contact your local Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning office today.