Can Heat Pumps be Used in Northern Climates?

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. Heat pumps have been sought after in warm climates for many years. But because they take heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom recommends that installing them in cold climates is not worth the effort. This might have you questioning 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 past decade, the acceptance of heat pump technology has surged in Northern European countries such as Norway and Sweden. With ordinary 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 More Effective at Low Temperatures?

Heat pump technology was previously insufficient for temperate climates. As the temperature dropped below freezing, these systems were simply unable to capture enough heat to effectively warm a house. But this is no longer accurate. Here are the special features used in cold-climate heat pumps that allow them to work efficiently at temperatures colder than 0 degrees F.

    • Cold-weather refrigerants 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 temperate weather and switch to higher speeds in severe cold. This increases efficiency in varying weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more consistent.
    • Variable-speed fans work with multi-stage compressors to produce heated air at the proper rate.
    • The enhanced coil design used in most modern heat pumps includes grooved copper tubing with a greater surface area, helping 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 relying on a backup electric resistance heater.
    • Improved motors consume less electricity to increase energy savings.
    • Other engineering optimizations like reduced ambient flow rates, greater compressor capacity and enhanced compression cycle configurations further reduce energy consumption in icy winter weather.

Traditional Heating Systems vs. Heat Pumps in Colder Climates

Heat pump efficiency is measured 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.

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, allowing 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 many 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 can vary. The biggest savers are likely to be people who heat with combustible fuels like propane and oil, as well as those who use electric furnaces or electric baseboard heaters.

That being said, heating with natural gas still tends to be less expensive than running a heat pump. The cost variation is based on how tough the winter is, the utility prices in your area, whether your equipment was installed correctly and whether you use solar panels to offset electricity costs.

Other Factors to Think About

If you’re looking at transitioning from a traditional furnace, boiler or electric heater to a cold-climate heat pump, consider these additional 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 best. 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 until the end of 2022.
    • Solar panels: Heat pumps use electricity, so they function 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 an old HVAC system or exploring options for a new property, Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing can help you make a cost-effective choice. We’ll assess your home comfort needs, consider 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 Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing office today.

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