If you’re looking 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 many years. But because they absorb heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom recommends that installing them in cold climates is not sensible. This may have you questioning 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 appropriate for northern climates. In the last decade, the acceptance of heat pump technology has soared in Northern European countries like Norway and Sweden. With standard January temperatures sitting around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these regions obviously depend on powerful heating options. Those who have installed cold-climate heat pumps have found that they fulfill their needs perfectly.
What Makes Cold-Climate Heat Pumps Successful at Low Temperatures?
Heat pump technology was previously unsuitable for temperate climates. As the temperature dropped below freezing, these systems were just 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 enable them to work efficiently at temperatures below 0 degrees F.
- Cold-weather refrigerants have a lower boiling point compared to traditional heat pump refrigerants, allowing them to pull more heat energy from cold air.
- Multi-stage compressors work at lower speeds in mild weather and increase to higher speeds in extreme cold. This improves efficiency in varying weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more stable.
- Variable-speed fans have multi-stage compressors to deliver heated air at the proper rate.
- The improved coil design used in most modern heat pumps is designed with grooved copper tubing with a larger surface area, helping the unit to transfer heat more efficiently.
- Flash injection opens 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 depending on a backup electric resistance heater.
- Better motors use less electricity to boost energy savings.
- Other engineering upgrades like weaker 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 calculated by its heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF), which demonstrates 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 nationwide 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 falls 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 max out at about 98% efficiency.
In terms of actual savings, results can vary. The biggest savers are probably people who heat with delivered fuels including 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 variation depends on how severe the winter is, the utility prices in your area, whether your heat pump was installed correctly and whether you use solar panels to offset electricity costs.
Other Factors to Take into Consideration
If you’re considering transitioning from a traditional furnace, boiler or electric heater to a cold-climate heat pump, remember these additional factors:
- Design and installation: Cold-weather heat pumps are designed for efficiency, but they must 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 impact 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 run on electricity, so they pair well with solar panels. This combo can reduce your energy bills even further.
Start Saving with a Cold-Climate Heat Pump
Whether you’re replacing an old HVAC system or comparing options for a new property, Golden Seal Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective choice. We’ll review your home comfort needs, take a look at your budget and suggest 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 Golden Seal Service Experts office today.