If you’re searching for a new comfort system, odds are you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and eco-friendly features of heat pumps. Heat pumps have been a favorite in warm climates for many years. But since they use heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom suggests 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 more in-depth, rest assured that modern, cold-weather heat pumps are acceptable for northern climates. Over the past decade, the acceptance of heat pump technology has soared in Northern European countries like Norway and Sweden. With standard January temperatures hovering around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these regions obviously depend on effective 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 was previously unsuitable for temperate climates. As the temperature fell below freezing, these systems were just unable to collect enough heat to effectively 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 perform efficiently at temperatures lower than 0 degrees F.
- Cold-weather coolants have a lower boiling point than traditional heat pump refrigerants, helping them to collect more heat energy from cold air.
- Multi-stage compressors work at lower speeds in moderate weather and transition to higher speeds in extreme cold. This improves efficiency in varying weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more consistent.
- Variable-speed fans work with multi-stage compressors to produce 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, helping the unit to transfer heat more efficiently.
- Flash injection opens up a shortcut in the refrigerant loop to improve cold-weather heating performance. Efficiency falls off a bit in this mode, but it’s still better than counting on a backup electric resistance heater.
- Better motors consume less electricity to increase energy savings.
- Other engineering upgrades such as reduced ambient flow rates, an increase in 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 measured 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. Many cold-climate heat pumps offer ratings of 10 HSPF or higher, allowing 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 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 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.
That being said, heating with natural gas still tends to be less expensive than using a heat pump. The cost gap is based on how severe the winter is, the utility prices in your area, whether your heat pump was installed correctly and whether you installed 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 additional factors:
- Design and installation: Cold-weather heat pumps are built for efficiency, but they need to be sized, designed and installed precisely to perform at their peak. Factors such as 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 U.S. government. The tax credit amount for qualifying installations is $300 until the end of 2022.
- Solar panels: Heat pumps are powered by electricity, so they work 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 an old HVAC system or comparing options for a new property, Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning can help you make a cost-effective choice. We’ll review your home comfort needs, go over your budget and suggest the best equipment, which may 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 Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning office today.