If you’re shopping for a new comfort system, odds are you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and enviromentally friendly features of heat pumps. Heat pumps have been popular in warm climates for decades. But since they absorb heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom recommends that installing them in cold climates is not worth the effort. This could have you questioning 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 suitable for northern climates. Over the last decade, the adoption of heat pump technology has soared in Northern European countries such as Norway and Sweden. With standard January temperatures hovering around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these regions 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 Efficient at Low Temperatures?
Heat pump technology used to be unsuitable for cooler climates. As the temperature dipped below freezing, these systems were unfortunately unable to extract enough heat to successfully warm a house. But this is no longer the case. Here are the special features used in cold-climate heat pumps that permit 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 function at lower speeds in mild weather and increase to higher speeds in severe cold. This increases efficiency in changing weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more stable.
- Variable-speed fans use multi-stage compressors to supply heated air at the proper rate.
- The enhanced coil design placed in most modern heat pumps is designed with grooved copper tubing with a larger 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 much better than counting on a backup electric resistance heater.
- Better motors require less electricity to increase energy savings.
- Other engineering optimizations like reduced ambient flow rates, greater compressor capacity and improved compression cycle configurations further lower 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 throughout the heating season divided by the energy consumed for 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 come with 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 use in the process.
Performance dips 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 usually people who heat with common 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 generally less expensive than running a heat pump. The cost gap depends on how severe the winter is, the utility rates 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 transitioning from a traditional furnace, boiler or electric heater to a cold-climate heat pump, consider 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 reduce 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 use 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 checking out options for a new property, Climate Control Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective choice. We’ll assess your home comfort needs, take a look at your budget and recommend 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 Climate Control Service Experts office today.