If you’re searching for a new comfort system, chances are you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and sustainable features of heat pumps. These systems have been sought after in warm climates for many years. But considering they absorb 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 good 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. In the last decade, the adoption of heat pump technology has surged in Northern European countries like Norway and Sweden. With standard January temperatures hovering around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these areas obviously rely on effective heating options. Those who have installed cold-climate heat pumps have been delighted to discover that they meet 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 dipped below freezing, these systems were just unable to collect enough heat to efficiently warm a house. But this is no longer accurate. Here are the advanced features found 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, allowing them to pull 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 boosts efficiency in varying weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more balanced.
- Variable-speed fans use multi-stage compressors to deliver heated air at the proper rate.
- The upgraded coil design used in most modern heat pumps features 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 improve cold-weather heating performance. Efficiency drops a bit in this mode, but it’s still superior to counting on a backup electric resistance heater.
- More powerful motors require less electricity to increase energy savings.
- Other engineering modifications like reduced ambient flow rates, greater compressor capacity and improved compression cycle configurations further reduce 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 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 offer ratings of 10 HSPF or higher, allowing them to operate at up to 400% efficiency in temperate 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 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.
However, heating with natural gas still tends to be less expensive than using a heat pump. The cost variation depends on how harsh the winter is, the utility costs 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 considering switching 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 engineered for efficiency, but they need to be sized, designed and installed properly to perform at their peak. Factors like 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 U.S. 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 lower 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, Comfort Masters Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective decision. We’ll review your home comfort needs, take a look at your budget and suggest 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 Comfort Masters Service Experts office today.