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. These systems have been popular in warm climates for a very long time. But considering they use heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom recommends that installing them in cold climates is not practical. 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 appropriate for northern climates. Over the past decade, the usage of heat pump technology has soared in Northern European countries such as Norway and Sweden. With regular January temperatures hovering around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these regions obviously rely on powerful 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 used to be insufficient for cold climates. As the temperature dropped below freezing, these systems were simply unable to extract 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 allow them to perform efficiently at temperatures below 0 degrees F.
- Cold-weather coolants have a lower boiling point compared to traditional heat pump refrigerants, helping them to pull more heat energy from cold air.
- Multi-stage compressors run at lower speeds in moderate weather and increase to higher speeds in extreme cold. This improves efficiency in varying weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more balanced.
- Variable-speed fans work with multi-stage compressors to produce heated air at the proper rate.
- The enhanced coil design found in most modern heat pumps includes grooved copper tubing with a greater surface area, helping the unit to transfer heat more efficiently.
- Flash injection opens up a shortcut in the refrigerant loop to increase cold-weather heating performance. Efficiency falls off a bit in this mode, but it’s still better than depending on a backup electric resistance heater.
- More powerful motors require less electricity to boost energy savings.
- Other engineering optimizations such as decreased ambient flow rates, an increase in compressor capacity and enhanced compression cycle configurations further reduce energy consumption in frigid winter weather.
Traditional Heating Systems vs. Heat Pumps in Colder Climates
Heat pump efficiency is measured by its heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF), which illustrates the total heating output over 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 temperate weather. In other words, they move four times more energy than they consume 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 may vary. The biggest savers are probably people who heat with combustible 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 gap depends on how harsh the winter is, the utility costs in your area, whether your equipment was installed correctly and whether you have solar panels to offset electricity costs.
Other Factors to Take into Consideration
If you’re looking at transitioning 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 built for efficiency, but they must be sized, designed and installed correctly to perform at their best. 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 use electricity, so they work 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, Donelson Air Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective decision. We’ll review your home comfort needs, go over your budget and suggest the best equipment, which may be a cold-climate heat pump or another solution. To ask questions or schedule a heat pump installation estimate, please contact your local Donelson Air Service Experts office today.