If you’re searching for a new HVAC system, chances are you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and sustainable features of heat pumps. These systems have been sought after in warm climates for a very long time. But since they absorb heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom recommends that installing them in cold climates is not practical. 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 appropriate for northern climates. Over the last decade, the usage of heat pump technology has increased significantly in Northern European countries such as Norway and Sweden. With frequent January temperatures sitting around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these regions obviously need powerful 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 was once insufficient for temperate climates. As the temperature dropped below freezing, these systems were unfortunately unable to capture enough heat to effectively warm a house. But this is no longer accurate. Here are the special features designed for 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 draw more heat energy from cold air.
- Multi-stage compressors function at lower speeds in mild weather and increase to higher speeds in severe cold. This increases efficiency in varying weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more balanced.
- Variable-speed fans work with multi-stage compressors to produce heated air at the proper rate.
- The enhanced coil design found in most modern heat pumps is designed with grooved copper tubing with a bigger surface area, helping 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 depending on a backup electric resistance heater.
- Better motors use less electricity to increase energy savings.
- Other engineering modifications like weaker ambient flow rates, increased compressor capacity and enhanced compression cycle configurations further lower energy consumption in icy 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 over 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. The majority of cold-climate heat pumps offer ratings of 10 HSPF or higher, allowing 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 drops 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 may vary. The biggest savers are usually people who heat with common fuels including propane and oil, as well as those who use electric furnaces or electric baseboard heaters.
However, heating with natural gas still tends to be less expensive than using a heat pump. The cost difference depends on how tough the winter is, the utility prices in your area, whether your system was installed correctly and whether you have 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 other factors:
- Design and installation: Cold-weather heat pumps are built for efficiency, but they need to be sized, designed and installed precisely to perform at their peak. Factors such as home insulation levels and the placement of the outdoor unit can also reduce 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 work well with solar panels. This combination can lower 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, Coastal Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective choice. We’ll assess your home comfort needs, consider your budget and recommend the best equipment, which may be a cold-climate heat pump or similar product. To ask questions or schedule a heat pump installation estimate, please contact your local Coastal Service Experts office today.