If you’re shopping for a new HVAC system, odds are you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and eco-friendly features of heat pumps. Heat pumps have been popular in warm climates for decades. But considering they use heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom suggests that installing them in cold climates is not sensible. This might have you wondering if a heat pump is a better 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. Over the last decade, the adoption of heat pump technology has surged in Northern European countries like Norway and Sweden. With average January temperatures sitting around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these regions obviously rely on effective heating options. Those who have installed cold-climate heat pumps have found that they meet their needs perfectly.
What Makes Cold-Climate Heat Pumps More Effective at Low Temperatures?
Heat pump technology used to be unsuitable for cold climates. As the temperature fell below freezing, these systems were just unable to capture enough heat to effectively warm a house. But this is no longer the case. Here are the special features used in cold-climate heat pumps that enable them to work efficiently at temperatures lower 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 work at lower speeds in moderate weather and transition to higher speeds in intense cold. This boosts efficiency in changing 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 improved coil design used in most modern heat pumps is designed with grooved copper tubing with a bigger surface area, allowing the unit to transfer heat more efficiently.
- Flash injection creates a shortcut in the refrigerant loop to improve cold-weather heating performance. Efficiency falls off a bit in this mode, but it’s still much better than depending on a backup electric resistance heater.
- Better motors consume less electricity to increase energy savings.
- Other engineering upgrades such as reduced ambient flow rates, increased compressor capacity and enhanced compression cycle configurations further decrease energy consumption in frigid winter weather.
Traditional Heating Systems vs. Heat Pumps in Colder Climates
Heat pump efficiency is determined by its heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF), which conveys the total heating output during the heating season divided by the energy consumed for that period. The higher the HSPF, the better the efficiency.
Starting in 2023, the nationwide minimum efficiency rating for heat pumps will be 8.8 HSPF. Lots of cold-climate heat pumps can boast ratings of 10 HSPF or higher, allowing them to operate at up to 400% efficiency in moderate weather. In other words, they move four times more energy than they consume in the process.
Performance dips 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 may vary. The biggest savers are likely to be people who heat with common fuels such as propane and oil, as well as those who use electric furnaces or electric baseboard heaters.
That being said, heating with natural gas still is generally less expensive than running a heat pump. The cost gap depends on how tough the winter is, the utility rates in your area, whether your equipment was installed correctly and whether you have solar panels to offset electricity costs.
Other Factors to Think About
If you’re thinking of switching 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 properly 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 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 lower your energy bills even further.
Start Saving with a Cold-Climate Heat Pump
Whether you’re replacing an existing HVAC system or exploring options for a new property, Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning can help you make a cost-effective decision. We’ll assess your home comfort needs, consider your budget and point you toward the best equipment, which might be a cold-climate heat pump or another kind of system. To ask questions or schedule a heat pump installation estimate, please contact your local Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning office today.