Can Heat Pumps be Used in Northern Climates?

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. These systems have been sought after in warm climates for many years. But since 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 wondering 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 acceptable for northern climates. In the last decade, the adoption of heat pump technology has increased significantly in Northern European countries such as Norway and Sweden. With ordinary 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 Successful at Low Temperatures?

Heat pump technology used to be unsuitable for cold climates. As the temperature fell below freezing, these systems were just unable to collect enough heat to efficiently warm a house. But this is no longer the case. Here are the innovative features designed for cold-climate heat pumps that allow them to perform efficiently at temperatures lower than 0 degrees F.

    • Cold-weather coolants have a lower boiling point versus traditional heat pump refrigerants, helping them to draw more heat energy from cold air.
    • Multi-stage compressors run at lower speeds in mild weather and increase to higher speeds in severe cold. This improves efficiency in changing weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more consistent.
    • Variable-speed fans have multi-stage compressors to supply heated air at the proper rate.
    • The improved coil design placed in most modern heat pumps features grooved copper tubing with a larger surface area, enabling the unit to transfer heat more efficiently.
    • Flash injection opens a shortcut in the refrigerant loop to boost cold-weather heating performance. Efficiency falls off a bit in this mode, but it’s still better than counting on a backup electric resistance heater.
    • Improved motors require less electricity to boost energy savings.
    • Other engineering optimizations such as reduced ambient flow rates, an increase in compressor capacity and improved compression cycle configurations further lower 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 conveys the total heating output during 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. Many cold-climate heat pumps offer 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 use in the process.

Performance dips 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 may vary. The biggest savers are usually people who heat with combustible 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 usually less expensive than installing a heat pump. The cost difference will depend on how severe the winter is, the utility prices in your area, whether your equipment was installed correctly and whether you have solar panels to offset electricity costs.

Other Factors to Think About

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 built for efficiency, but they need to 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 affect 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 until the end of 2022.
    • Solar panels: Heat pumps are powered by electricity, so they function well with solar panels. This combo can lower 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, Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing can help you make a cost-effective decision. We’ll review your home comfort needs, take a look at your budget and recommend the best equipment, which could be a cold-climate heat pump or similar product. To ask questions or schedule a heat pump installation estimate, please contact your local Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing office today.

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