If you’re searching for a new HVAC system, odds are you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and sustainable features of heat pumps. These systems have been a favorite in warm climates for a very long time. But since they use heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom suggests that installing them in cold climates is not worth the effort. This may have you asking 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 last decade, the adoption of heat pump technology has soared in Northern European countries like Norway and Sweden. With ordinary January temperatures hovering around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these areas obviously need powerful heating options. Those who have installed cold-climate heat pumps have been delighted to discover that they fulfill their needs perfectly.
What Makes Cold-Climate Heat Pumps Successful at Low Temperatures?
Heat pump technology was once too weak for temperate climates. As the temperature dipped below freezing, these systems were just unable to capture enough heat to efficiently warm a house. But this is no longer the case. Here are the innovative features found in cold-climate heat pumps that enable them to operate efficiently at temperatures lower than 0 degrees F.
- Cold-weather coolants have a lower boiling point than traditional heat pump refrigerants, allowing them to draw more heat energy from cold air.
- Multi-stage compressors function at lower speeds in moderate weather and switch to higher speeds in extreme cold. This increases efficiency in dynamic weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more stable.
- Variable-speed fans use 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 bigger surface area, allowing the unit to exchange 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 superior to counting on a backup electric resistance heater.
- Improved motors consume less electricity to increase energy savings.
- Other engineering modifications such as reduced ambient flow rates, greater compressor capacity and enhanced compression cycle configurations further reduce energy consumption in freezing 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 during the heating season divided by the energy consumed during that period. The higher the HSPF, the better the efficiency.
Starting in 2023, the national minimum efficiency rating for heat pumps will be 8.8 HSPF. The majority of cold-climate heat pumps come with ratings of 10 HSPF or higher, enabling them to operate at up to 400% efficiency in moderate weather. In other words, they move four times more energy than they use in the process.
Performance falls 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 top out at about 98% efficiency.
In terms of actual savings, results can vary. The biggest savers are usually people who heat with delivered fuels such as 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 installing a heat pump. The cost variation is based on how severe the winter is, the utility rates 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 thinking of 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 designed for efficiency, but they should be sized, designed and installed precisely to perform at their peak. Factors like 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 United States government. The tax credit amount for qualifying installations is $300 up to the end of 2022.
- Solar panels: Heat pumps are powered by electricity, so they pair well with solar panels. This collaboration can reduce your energy bills even further.
Start Saving with a Cold-Climate Heat Pump
Whether you’re replacing a current HVAC system or exploring options for a new property, Comfortech Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective choice. We’ll evalulate your home comfort needs, take a look at your budget and point you toward the best equipment, which could be a cold-climate heat pump or similar product. To ask questions or schedule a heat pump installation estimate, please contact your local Comfortech Service Experts office today.