If you’re searching for a new comfort system, it’s likely that you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and sustainable features of heat pumps. These systems have been sought after in warm climates for a very long time. But considering they take heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom recommends that installing them in cold climates is not practical. 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 into more detail, rest assured that modern, cold-weather heat pumps are suitable for northern climates. Over the last decade, the usage of heat pump technology has surged in Northern European countries such as Norway and Sweden. With regular January temperatures sitting around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these communities obviously depend 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 was previously insufficient for cold climates. As the temperature dipped below freezing, these systems were simply unable to capture enough heat to successfully warm a house. But this is no longer the case. Here are the innovative features found in cold-climate heat pumps that enable them to operate efficiently at temperatures colder than 0 degrees F.
- Cold-weather coolants have a lower boiling point compared to traditional heat pump refrigerants, enabling them to draw more heat energy from cold air.
- Multi-stage compressors function at lower speeds in temperate weather and transition to higher speeds in severe cold. This boosts efficiency in changing weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more stable.
- Variable-speed fans use multi-stage compressors to produce heated air at the proper rate.
- The improved coil design found in most modern heat pumps features grooved copper tubing with a larger surface area, helping the unit to transfer heat more efficiently.
- Flash injection opens up a shortcut in the refrigerant loop to boost cold-weather heating performance. Efficiency falls off a bit in this mode, but it’s still much better than relying on a backup electric resistance heater.
- Better motors consume less electricity to increase energy savings.
- Other engineering upgrades like reduced ambient flow rates, greater compressor capacity and improved compression cycle configurations further reduce energy consumption in icy winter weather.
Traditional Heating Systems vs. Heat Pumps in Colder Climates
Heat pump efficiency is calculated by its heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF), which illustrates the total heating output over 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 offer 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 falls 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 usually people who heat with common 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 using a heat pump. The cost variation will depend on how tough 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 looking at transitioning 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 built for efficiency, but they must be sized, designed and installed correctly to perform at their peak. Factors like home insulation levels and the location 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 up to the end of 2022.
- Solar panels: Heat pumps run on electricity, so they work 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 comparing options for a new property, Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning can help you make a cost-effective choice. We’ll assess your home comfort needs, go over your budget and point you toward 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 office today.