If you’re looking for a new home comfort system, odds are you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and eco-friendly features of heat pumps. Heat pumps have been sought after in warm climates for decades. But because they use heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom suggests that installing them in cold climates is not sensible. This might have you wondering if a heat pump is the right 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 last decade, the usage of heat pump technology has surged in Northern European countries like Norway and Sweden. With average January temperatures hovering around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these regions obviously depend on 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 was once unsuitable for temperate climates. As the temperature fell below freezing, these systems were simply unable to extract enough heat to effectively warm a house. But this is no longer the case. Here are the advanced features designed for cold-climate heat pumps that allow them to perform efficiently at temperatures below 0 degrees F.
- Cold-weather coolants have a lower boiling point versus traditional heat pump refrigerants, allowing them to draw 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 varying weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more stable.
- Variable-speed fans use multi-stage compressors to produce heated air at the proper rate.
- The improved coil design used in most modern heat pumps is designed with grooved copper tubing with a larger surface area, allowing the unit to transfer heat more efficiently.
- Flash injection opens up a shortcut in the refrigerant loop to boost cold-weather heating performance. Efficiency drops a bit in this mode, but it’s still better than counting on a backup electric resistance heater.
- More powerful motors require less electricity to increase energy savings.
- Other engineering modifications such as reduced ambient flow rates, an increase in compressor capacity and improved compression cycle configurations further decrease energy consumption in frigid winter weather.
Traditional Heating Systems vs. Heat Pumps in Colder Climates
Heat pump efficiency is calculated by its heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF), which conveys 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. Lots of cold-climate heat pumps can boast 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 dips as the temperature drops, but various 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 may vary. The biggest savers are likely to be people who heat with combustible fuels including 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 difference will depend on how harsh the winter is, the utility rates in your area, whether your heat pump was installed correctly and whether you have 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 other factors:
- Design and installation: Cold-weather heat pumps are designed for efficiency, but they need to be sized, designed and installed properly to perform at their peak. Factors such as home insulation levels and the placement 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 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 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, Roland J. Down Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective decision. We’ll evalulate your home comfort needs, take a look at your budget and recommend 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 Roland J. Down Service Experts office today.