If you’re shopping for a new comfort system, chances are you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and sustainable features of heat pumps. Heat pumps have been popular 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 practical. This might have you questioning 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 acceptance of heat pump technology has increased significantly in Northern European countries such as Norway and Sweden. With standard 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 meet their needs perfectly.
What Makes Cold-Climate Heat Pumps More Effective at Low Temperatures?
Heat pump technology was previously too weak for cooler climates. As the temperature dropped below freezing, these systems were simply unable to extract enough heat to effectively warm a house. But this is no longer accurate. Here are the innovative features used in cold-climate heat pumps that enable them to perform efficiently at temperatures colder than 0 degrees F.
- Cold-weather coolants have a lower boiling point versus traditional heat pump refrigerants, helping them to pull more heat energy from cold air.
- Multi-stage compressors work at lower speeds in temperate weather and switch to higher speeds in severe cold. This increases 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 improved coil design used in most modern heat pumps includes grooved copper tubing with a larger surface area, enabling the unit to exchange 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 relying on a backup electric resistance heater.
- Improved motors use less electricity to boost energy savings.
- Other engineering upgrades such as decreased ambient flow rates, greater compressor capacity and improved compression cycle configurations further lower energy consumption in icy 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 throughout the heating season divided by the energy consumed during 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. Many cold-climate heat pumps come with ratings of 10 HSPF or higher, enabling them to operate at up to 400% efficiency in temperate 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 likely to be people who heat with combustible fuels such as propane and oil, as well as those who use electric furnaces or electric baseboard heaters.
That being said, heating with natural gas still tends to be less expensive than running a heat pump. The cost difference is based on how severe the winter is, the utility prices in your area, whether your equipment was installed correctly and whether you use solar panels to offset electricity costs.
Other Factors to Consider
If you’re considering transitioning from a traditional furnace, boiler or electric heater to a cold-climate heat pump, don't forget these additional factors:
- Design and installation: Cold-weather heat pumps are built for efficiency, but they need to be sized, designed and installed correctly to perform at their peak. Factors such as home insulation levels and the location of the outdoor unit can also affect 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 until the end of 2022.
- Solar panels: Heat pumps run on electricity, so they function 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 old HVAC system or exploring options for a new property, Teays Valley Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective choice. We’ll review your home comfort needs, consider your budget and point you toward 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 Teays Valley Service Experts office today.