If you’re shopping for a new comfort system, chances 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 a very long time. But considering they absorb heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom recommends that installing them in cold climates is not practical. 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 into more detail, rest assured that modern, cold-weather heat pumps are acceptable for northern climates. In the last decade, the adoption of heat pump technology has surged in Northern European countries like Norway and Sweden. With frequent January temperatures sitting around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these communities obviously need efficient 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 More Effective at Low Temperatures?
Heat pump technology was previously unsuitable for temperate climates. As the temperature dipped below freezing, these systems were just unable to capture enough heat to effectively warm a house. But this is no longer accurate. Here are the special features found in cold-climate heat pumps that allow them to work efficiently at temperatures lower than 0 degrees F.
- Cold-weather refrigerants have a lower boiling point than traditional heat pump refrigerants, allowing them to collect more heat energy from cold air.
- Multi-stage compressors run 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 stable.
- Variable-speed fans work with multi-stage compressors to deliver heated air at the proper rate.
- The improved coil design found in most modern heat pumps includes grooved copper tubing with a greater surface area, allowing the unit to exchange heat more efficiently.
- Flash injection creates a shortcut in the refrigerant loop to increase 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 require less electricity to boost energy savings.
- Other engineering optimizations like weaker ambient flow rates, increased compressor capacity and enhanced compression cycle configurations further lower 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 illustrates the total heating output during the heating season divided by the energy consumed for that period. The higher the HSPF, the better the efficiency.
Beginning in 2023, the national minimum efficiency rating for heat pumps will be 8.8 HSPF. Lots of cold-climate heat pumps offer 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 top out at about 98% efficiency.
In terms of actual savings, results can 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.
Nevertheless, heating with natural gas still is usually less expensive than using a heat pump. The cost gap will depend on how harsh the winter is, the utility costs in your area, whether your system was installed correctly and whether you have 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 other factors:
- Design and installation: Cold-weather heat pumps are designed for efficiency, but they need to be sized, designed and installed correctly 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 up to the end of 2022.
- Solar panels: Heat pumps are powered by 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 old HVAC system or checking out options for a new property, Stevenson Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective decision. We’ll evalulate your home comfort needs, take a look at your budget and point you toward 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 Stevenson Service Experts office today.