If you’re searching for a new home comfort system, it’s likely that 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 because they absorb heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom indicates that installing them in cold climates is not practical. This may have you asking if a heat pump is the right choice for your home in the Northern U.S. or Canada.
Before going more in-depth, rest assured that modern, cold-weather heat pumps are suitable for northern climates. Over the past decade, the usage of heat pump technology has soared in Northern European countries like Norway and Sweden. With standard January temperatures hovering around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these areas obviously need 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 Efficient at Low Temperatures?
Heat pump technology used to be insufficient for cooler climates. As the temperature fell below freezing, these systems were just unable to collect enough heat to effectively warm a house. But this is no longer accurate. 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 versus traditional heat pump refrigerants, allowing them to collect more heat energy from cold air.
- Multi-stage compressors run at lower speeds in moderate weather and switch to higher speeds in extreme cold. This boosts efficiency in dynamic weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more consistent.
- Variable-speed fans use multi-stage compressors to deliver heated air at the proper rate.
- The enhanced coil design found in most modern heat pumps is designed with grooved copper tubing with a larger surface area, enabling the unit to exchange heat more efficiently.
- Flash injection opens up a shortcut in the refrigerant loop to boost cold-weather heating performance. Efficiency drops a bit in this mode, but it’s still much better than counting on a backup electric resistance heater.
- More powerful motors require less electricity to boost energy savings.
- Other engineering optimizations such as reduced 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 measured by its heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF), which illustrates the total heating output throughout 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. Many cold-climate heat pumps can boast ratings of 10 HSPF or higher, enabling 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 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 can vary. The biggest savers are likely to be people who heat with delivered fuels including 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 variation depends on how harsh the winter is, the utility rates in your area, whether your system was installed correctly and whether you installed solar panels to offset electricity costs.
Other Factors to Consider
If you’re considering transitioning from a traditional furnace, boiler or electric heater to a cold-climate heat pump, don't forget these additional factors:
- Design and installation: Cold-weather heat pumps are designed for efficiency, but they should be sized, designed and installed precisely to perform at their best. Factors such as 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 use electricity, so they function 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 a current HVAC system or comparing options for a new property, Robinson Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective choice. We’ll assess your home comfort needs, consider your budget and point you toward the best equipment, which could 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 Robinson Service Experts office today.