If you’re looking for a new comfort system, chances are you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and eco-friendly features of heat pumps. These systems have been sought after in warm climates for decades. But considering they absorb heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom recommends that installing them in cold climates is not sensible. This could have you questioning if a heat pump is a better choice for your home in the Northern U.S. or Canada.
Before going more in-depth, rest assured that modern, cold-weather heat pumps are appropriate for northern climates. Over the past decade, the acceptance of heat pump technology has increased significantly in Northern European countries such as Norway and Sweden. With regular January temperatures hovering around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these areas obviously depend on powerful heating options. Those who have installed cold-climate heat pumps have been delighted to discover that they fulfill their needs perfectly.
What Makes Cold-Climate Heat Pumps More Effective at Low Temperatures?
Heat pump technology was once too weak for cold climates. As the temperature dropped below freezing, these systems were just unable to capture enough heat to successfully warm a house. But this is no longer the case. Here are the advanced features used in cold-climate heat pumps that allow them to work efficiently at temperatures lower than 0 degrees F.
- Cold-weather coolants have a lower boiling point versus traditional heat pump refrigerants, helping them to draw more heat energy from cold air.
- Multi-stage compressors run at lower speeds in mild weather and switch to higher speeds in intense cold. This boosts efficiency in varying weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more stable.
- Variable-speed fans work with multi-stage compressors to supply heated air at the proper rate.
- The improved coil design placed in most modern heat pumps is designed with grooved copper tubing with a bigger surface area, helping 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 relying on a backup electric resistance heater.
- More powerful motors require less electricity to increase energy savings.
- Other engineering optimizations like reduced ambient flow rates, increased compressor capacity and improved compression cycle configurations further lower energy consumption in freezing winter weather.
Traditional Heating Systems vs. Heat Pumps in Colder Climates
Heat pump efficiency is measured by its heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF), which conveys the total heating output throughout the heating season divided by the energy consumed for that period. The higher the HSPF, the better the efficiency.
Beginning in 2023, the national minimum efficiency rating for heat pumps will be 8.8 HSPF. Lots of cold-climate heat pumps come with ratings of 10 HSPF or higher, helping them to operate at up to 400% efficiency in temperate weather. In other words, they move four times more energy than they use in the process.
Performance drops as the temperature drops, but many models are still around 100% efficient in sub-freezing conditions. Compare this to brand-new, high-efficiency furnaces, which max out at about 98% efficiency.
In terms of actual savings, results might vary. The biggest savers are likely to be people who heat with delivered fuels including propane and oil, as well as those who use electric furnaces or electric baseboard heaters.
However, heating with natural gas still is generally less expensive than installing a heat pump. The cost gap will depend on how tough the winter is, the utility rates in your area, whether your heat pump was installed correctly and whether you have solar panels to offset electricity costs.
Other Factors to Consider
If you’re looking at transitioning 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 engineered for efficiency, but they need to be sized, designed and installed correctly to perform at their peak. Factors like home insulation levels and the location of the outdoor unit can also reduce system performance.
- Tax credits: You can save on heat pump installation costs with energy tax credits from the U.S. government. The tax credit amount for qualifying installations is $300 up to the end of 2022.
- Solar panels: Heat pumps run on electricity, so they work well with solar panels. This collaboration can reduce your energy bills even further.
Start Saving with a Cold-Climate Heat Pump
Whether you’re replacing a current HVAC system or comparing options for a new property, Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning can help you make a cost-effective choice. We’ll evalulate your home comfort needs, take a look at your budget and recommend 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.