Can Heat Pumps be Used in Northern Climates?

If you’re searching for a new HVAC system, chances are you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and enviromentally friendly features of heat pumps. Heat pumps have been sought after in warm climates for a very long time. But since they take heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom indicates that installing them in cold climates is not sensible. This could have you questioning if a heat pump is a good 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. 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 hovering around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these communities 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 Efficient at Low Temperatures? 

Heat pump technology used to be unsuitable for cold climates. As the temperature dropped below freezing, these systems were just unable to extract enough heat to successfully warm a house. But this is no longer the case. Here are the special features designed for cold-climate heat pumps that allow them to perform efficiently at temperatures colder than 0 degrees F. 

  • Cold-weather refrigerants have a lower boiling point versus traditional heat pump refrigerants, helping them to pull more heat energy from cold air. 
  • Multi-stage compressors run at lower speeds in temperate weather and transition 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 deliver heated air at the proper rate. 
  • The enhanced coil design placed in most modern heat pumps is designed with grooved copper tubing with a bigger surface area, enabling the unit to transfer heat more efficiently. 
  • Flash injection creates a shortcut in the refrigerant loop to boost 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. 
  • More powerful motors consume less electricity to increase energy savings. 
  • Other engineering upgrades like weaker ambient flow rates, greater compressor capacity and enhanced compression cycle configurations further reduce 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 demonstrates the total heating output throughout the heating season divided by the energy consumed during that period. The higher the HSPF, the better the efficiency. 

Starting in 2023, the nationwide minimum efficiency rating for heat pumps will be 8.8 HSPF. Many cold-climate heat pumps can boast 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 consume in the process. 

Performance falls 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 probably people who heat with common fuels like propane and oil, as well as those who use electric furnaces or electric baseboard heaters. 

Nevertheless, heating with natural gas still is usually less expensive than using a heat pump. The cost difference is based on how severe the winter is, the utility rates in your area, whether your heat pump was installed correctly and whether you installed solar panels to offset electricity costs. 

Other Factors to Take into Consideration 

If you’re looking at transitioning from a traditional furnace, boiler or electric heater to a cold-climate heat pump, remember 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 placement 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 federal government. The tax credit amount for qualifying installations is $300 through the end of 2022. 
  • Solar panels: Heat pumps run on electricity, so they pair 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 exploring options for a new property, Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing 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 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 & Plumbing office today

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