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 popular in warm climates for decades. But considering they take heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom indicates that installing them in cold climates is not sensible. This may have you questioning if a heat pump is a better 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 appropriate for northern climates. Over the past decade, the adoption of heat pump technology has surged in Northern European countries such as Norway and Sweden. With average January temperatures sitting around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these regions obviously need powerful 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 used to be unsuitable for temperate climates. As the temperature dipped below freezing, these systems were unfortunately unable to collect enough heat to efficiently warm a house. But this is no longer the case. Here are the advanced features used in cold-climate heat pumps that enable them to work efficiently at temperatures below 0 degrees F.
- Cold-weather refrigerants have a lower boiling point compared to traditional heat pump refrigerants, helping them to pull more heat energy from cold air.
- Multi-stage compressors work at lower speeds in moderate weather and switch to higher speeds in intense cold. This improves efficiency in changing weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more consistent.
- Variable-speed fans work with multi-stage compressors to deliver heated air at the proper rate.
- The enhanced coil design placed in most modern heat pumps includes grooved copper tubing with a bigger surface area, enabling the unit to transfer heat more efficiently.
- Flash injection opens up 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.
- Better motors require less electricity to boost energy savings.
- Other engineering optimizations like weaker ambient flow rates, increased compressor capacity and enhanced compression cycle configurations further decrease 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 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, helping them to operate at up to 400% efficiency in mild weather. In other words, they move four times more energy than they use in the process.
Performance dips 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 probably people who heat with delivered fuels like propane and oil, as well as those who use electric furnaces or electric baseboard heaters.
That being said, heating with natural gas still is usually less expensive than running a heat pump. The cost variation will depend on how severe the winter is, the utility costs in your area, whether your heat pump was installed correctly and whether you use solar panels to offset electricity costs.
Other Factors to Take into Consideration
If you’re considering switching from a traditional furnace, boiler or electric heater to a cold-climate heat pump, remember these additional factors:
- Design and installation: Cold-weather heat pumps are engineered for efficiency, but they must be sized, designed and installed properly to perform at their best. 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 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 work well with solar panels. This combination can reduce your energy bills even further.
Start Saving with a Cold-Climate Heat Pump
Whether you’re replacing an existing HVAC system or checking out options for a new property, McKinley Heating Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective decision. We’ll assess your home comfort needs, take a look at your budget and recommend the best equipment, which might be a cold-climate heat pump or similar product. To ask questions or schedule a heat pump installation estimate, please contact your local McKinley Heating Service Experts office today.