If you’re searching for a new home comfort system, chances 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 a very long time. But because they use heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom indicates that installing them in cold climates is not sensible. This might have you asking 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 acceptable for northern climates. In the last decade, the usage of heat pump technology has soared in Northern European countries like Norway and Sweden. With average January temperatures hovering around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these communities obviously rely on powerful 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 too weak for cooler climates. As the temperature fell below freezing, these systems were simply unable to collect enough heat to successfully warm a house. But this is no longer the case. Here are the innovative features used in cold-climate heat pumps that allow them to operate efficiently at temperatures lower than 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 moderate weather and transition to higher speeds in severe cold. This increases efficiency in varying weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more stable.
- Variable-speed fans work with multi-stage compressors to produce heated air at the proper rate.
- The improved coil design placed in most modern heat pumps includes grooved copper tubing with a greater surface area, helping the unit to transfer 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 better than counting on a backup electric resistance heater.
- Better motors use less electricity to increase energy savings.
- Other engineering upgrades like weaker ambient flow rates, greater 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 demonstrates the total heating output throughout the heating season divided by the energy consumed for 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. Many cold-climate heat pumps come with ratings of 10 HSPF or higher, allowing them to operate at up to 400% efficiency in mild weather. In other words, they move four times more energy than they consume in the process.
Performance drops 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 top out at about 98% efficiency.
In terms of actual savings, results may vary. The biggest savers are probably people who heat with combustible fuels including propane and oil, as well as those who use electric furnaces or electric baseboard heaters.
However, heating with natural gas still is generally less expensive than installing a heat pump. The cost variation is based on how harsh 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 Think About
If you’re considering 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 engineered for efficiency, but they should be sized, designed and installed properly to perform at their peak. Factors like home insulation levels and the location of the outdoor unit can also reduce 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 are powered by electricity, so they pair well with solar panels. This combination 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, TML Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective choice. We’ll evalulate 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 TML Service Experts office today.