If you’re looking for a new HVAC system, odds 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 many years. But since they use heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom recommends that installing them in cold climates is not sensible. This may have you wondering 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 suitable for northern climates. Over the last decade, the adoption 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 need powerful heating options. Those who have installed cold-climate heat pumps have found that they meet their needs perfectly.
What Makes Cold-Climate Heat Pumps Successful at Low Temperatures?
Heat pump technology used to be too weak for cooler climates. As the temperature dropped below freezing, these systems were simply unable to capture enough heat to successfully warm a house. But this is no longer accurate. Here are the special features found in cold-climate heat pumps that allow them to perform efficiently at temperatures below 0 degrees F.
- Cold-weather refrigerants have a lower boiling point than traditional heat pump refrigerants, helping them to draw more heat energy from cold air.
- Multi-stage compressors work at lower speeds in moderate weather and switch to higher speeds in severe cold. This boosts efficiency in changing weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more stable.
- Variable-speed fans have multi-stage compressors to produce heated air at the proper rate.
- The upgraded coil design found in most modern heat pumps is designed with grooved copper tubing with a bigger surface area, allowing the unit to exchange heat more efficiently.
- Flash injection opens a shortcut in the refrigerant loop to improve cold-weather heating performance. Efficiency drops a bit in this mode, but it’s still much better than depending on a backup electric resistance heater.
- Improved motors use less electricity to boost energy savings.
- Other engineering upgrades such as reduced ambient flow rates, an increase in compressor capacity and enhanced compression cycle configurations further lower energy consumption in freezing winter weather.
Traditional Heating Systems vs. Heat Pumps in Colder Climates
Heat pump efficiency is calculated by its heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF), which illustrates the total heating output during the heating season divided by the energy consumed during that period. The higher the HSPF, the better the efficiency.
Beginning in 2023, the nationwide minimum efficiency rating for heat pumps will be 8.8 HSPF. The majority of cold-climate heat pumps come with ratings of 10 HSPF or higher, enabling them to operate at up to 400% efficiency in moderate weather. In other words, they move four times more energy than they consume in the process.
Performance drops as the temperature drops, but numerous 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 can vary. The biggest savers are usually people who heat with combustible fuels such as propane and oil, as well as those who use electric furnaces or electric baseboard heaters.
Nevertheless, heating with natural gas still tends to be less expensive than using a heat pump. The cost difference is based on how tough the winter is, the utility costs in your area, whether your equipment was installed correctly and whether you installed solar panels to offset electricity costs.
Other Factors to Consider
If you’re considering 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 designed for efficiency, but they must be sized, designed and installed correctly to perform at their best. Factors such as home insulation levels and the location 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 United States government. The tax credit amount for qualifying installations is $300 through the end of 2022.
- Solar panels: Heat pumps use electricity, so they pair well with solar panels. This combo can reduce your energy bills even further.
Start Saving with a Cold-Climate Heat Pump
Whether you’re replacing a current HVAC system or checking out options for a new property, R & M Climate Control Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective choice. We’ll review your home comfort needs, consider your budget and recommend the best equipment, which could be a cold-climate heat pump or another kind of system. To ask questions or schedule a heat pump installation estimate, please contact your local R & M Climate Control Service Experts office today.