Can Heat Pumps be Used in Northern Climates?

If you’re searching for a new comfort system, odds are you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and sustainable features of heat pumps. Heat pumps have been popular in warm climates for many years. But since they absorb heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom indicates that installing them in cold climates is not practical. This might have you wondering 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 last decade, the usage of heat pump technology has soared in Northern European countries such as Norway and Sweden. With average 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 been delighted to discover that they meet their needs perfectly. 

What Makes Cold-Climate Heat Pumps Successful at Low Temperatures? 

Heat pump technology was previously too weak for cold climates. As the temperature dipped below freezing, these systems were simply unable to collect 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 lower than 0 degrees F. 

  • Cold-weather coolants have a lower boiling point compared to traditional heat pump refrigerants, enabling them to pull more heat energy from cold air. 
  • Multi-stage compressors function at lower speeds in temperate weather and transition to higher speeds in extreme cold. This increases efficiency in varying weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more stable. 
  • Variable-speed fans have 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 bigger surface area, enabling the unit to exchange 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 better than depending on a backup electric resistance heater. 
  • More powerful motors use less electricity to boost energy savings. 
  • Other engineering modifications such as reduced ambient flow rates, increased 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 determined by its heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF), which illustrates the total heating output over 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. Lots of cold-climate heat pumps come with 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 dips 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 max out at about 98% efficiency. 

In terms of actual savings, results may vary. The biggest savers are probably people who heat with delivered 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 usually less expensive than installing a heat pump. The cost variation is based on how harsh the winter is, the utility costs in your area, whether your equipment was installed correctly and whether you installed solar panels to offset electricity costs. 

Other Factors to Think About 

If you’re looking at 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 designed for efficiency, but they need to be sized, designed and installed correctly to perform at their best. Factors like home insulation levels and the placement of the outdoor unit can also impact system performance. 
  • Tax credits: You can save on heat pump installation costs with energy tax credits from the U.S. government. The tax credit amount for qualifying installations is $300 up to the end of 2022. 
  • Solar panels: Heat pumps are powered by electricity, so they work 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 existing 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 evaluate your home comfort needs, take a look at your budget and point you toward 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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