If you’re shopping for a new comfort system, chances are you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and eco-friendly features of heat pumps. These systems have been a favorite in warm climates for decades. But since they use heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom suggests that installing them in cold climates is not practical. This may have you asking 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 suitable for northern climates. Over the past decade, the usage 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 communities obviously depend on 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 too weak for cold climates. As the temperature dipped below freezing, these systems were unfortunately unable to capture enough heat to effectively warm a house. But this is no longer the case. Here are the special features designed for cold-climate heat pumps that enable them to perform efficiently at temperatures lower than 0 degrees F.
- Cold-weather refrigerants have a lower boiling point than traditional heat pump refrigerants, enabling them to collect more heat energy from cold air.
- Multi-stage compressors work at lower speeds in temperate weather and switch to higher speeds in extreme cold. This increases efficiency in changing weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more stable.
- Variable-speed fans work with multi-stage compressors to deliver heated air at the proper rate.
- The improved coil design found in most modern heat pumps includes grooved copper tubing with a larger surface area, allowing the unit to transfer heat more efficiently.
- Flash injection opens up a shortcut in the refrigerant loop to improve cold-weather heating performance. Efficiency drops a bit in this mode, but it’s still superior to counting on a backup electric resistance heater.
- Better motors consume less electricity to boost energy savings.
- Other engineering modifications such as decreased ambient flow rates, increased 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 determined 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 national minimum efficiency rating for heat pumps will be 8.8 HSPF. The majority of cold-climate heat pumps offer 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 use 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 usually people who heat with combustible fuels such as 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 running a heat pump. The cost gap 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 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 correctly 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 federal government. The tax credit amount for qualifying installations is $300 until the end of 2022.
- Solar panels: Heat pumps run on electricity, so they function 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 checking out options for a new property, Strand Brothers Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective choice. We’ll evalulate your home comfort needs, consider your budget and suggest 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 Strand Brothers Service Experts office today.