If you’re looking for a new home comfort system, chances are you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and enviromentally friendly features of heat pumps. Heat pumps have been popular in warm climates for decades. But because they absorb heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom suggests that installing them in cold climates is not worth the effort. This might have you questioning if a heat pump is a good 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 past decade, the usage of heat pump technology has soared in Northern European countries such as Norway and Sweden. With regular January temperatures hovering around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these areas obviously rely on effective heating options. Those who have installed cold-climate heat pumps have been delighted to discover that they fulfill their needs perfectly.
What Makes Cold-Climate Heat Pumps More Efficient at Low Temperatures?
Heat pump technology used to be unsuitable for cooler climates. As the temperature dipped below freezing, these systems were unfortunately unable to capture enough heat to successfully warm a house. But this is no longer accurate. Here are the special features designed for cold-climate heat pumps that allow them to perform efficiently at temperatures below 0 degrees F.
- Cold-weather refrigerants have a lower boiling point compared to traditional heat pump refrigerants, allowing them to draw more heat energy from cold air.
- Multi-stage compressors work at lower speeds in moderate weather and increase to higher speeds in severe cold. This improves efficiency in dynamic 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 upgraded coil design found in most modern heat pumps features grooved copper tubing with a larger surface area, allowing the unit to transfer heat more efficiently.
- Flash injection creates a shortcut in the refrigerant loop to increase cold-weather heating performance. Efficiency falls off a bit in this mode, but it’s still much better than counting on a backup electric resistance heater.
- More powerful motors consume less electricity to increase energy savings.
- Other engineering modifications like decreased ambient flow rates, greater compressor capacity and enhanced compression cycle configurations further lower 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 illustrates the total heating output over the heating season divided by the energy consumed during 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. The majority of cold-climate heat pumps can boast ratings of 10 HSPF or higher, enabling 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 falls 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 top out at about 98% efficiency.
In terms of actual savings, results might vary. The biggest savers are probably people who heat with combustible fuels such as 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 using a heat pump. The cost difference depends on how harsh the winter is, the utility prices in your area, whether your system 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, don't forget 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 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 through the end of 2022.
- Solar panels: Heat pumps use electricity, so they function 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 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, take a look at your budget and suggest the best equipment, which may 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.