If you’re searching for a new home comfort system, it’s likely that you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and enviromentally friendly features of heat pumps. These systems have been popular in warm climates for many years. But because they take heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom recommends that installing them in cold climates is not practical. This could have you wondering if a heat pump is a better 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 appropriate for northern climates. In the last decade, the usage of heat pump technology has increased significantly in Northern European countries such as Norway and Sweden. With average January temperatures sitting 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 fulfill their needs perfectly.
What Makes Cold-Climate Heat Pumps Successful at Low Temperatures?
Heat pump technology was once insufficient for temperate climates. As the temperature dropped below freezing, these systems were simply unable to capture enough heat to effectively warm a house. But this is no longer accurate. 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 refrigerants have a lower boiling point than traditional heat pump refrigerants, enabling them to collect more heat energy from cold air.
- Multi-stage compressors run at lower speeds in mild weather and transition to higher speeds in intense cold. This boosts efficiency in changing weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more stable.
- Variable-speed fans use multi-stage compressors to supply heated air at the proper rate.
- The upgraded coil design used in most modern heat pumps features grooved copper tubing with a larger surface area, allowing the unit to transfer heat more efficiently.
- Flash injection creates a shortcut in the refrigerant loop to boost cold-weather heating performance. Efficiency falls off a bit in this mode, but it’s still much better than relying on a backup electric resistance heater.
- Better motors require less electricity to boost energy savings.
- Other engineering upgrades like reduced ambient flow rates, greater compressor capacity and enhanced compression cycle configurations further decrease energy consumption in icy winter weather.
Traditional Heating Systems vs. Heat Pumps in Colder Climates
Heat pump efficiency is calculated 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.
Beginning 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, helping 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 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 may vary. The biggest savers are probably people who heat with common fuels including propane and oil, as well as those who use electric furnaces or electric baseboard heaters.
Nevertheless, heating with natural gas still is generally less expensive than using a heat pump. The cost difference is based on how tough the winter is, the utility rates in your area, whether your system was installed correctly and whether you use solar panels to offset electricity costs.
Other Factors to Take into Consideration
If you’re thinking of 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 built for efficiency, but they need to be sized, designed and installed correctly to perform at their best. Factors like home insulation levels and the location 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 federal 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 reduce 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, Barlow Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective decision. We’ll review your home comfort needs, consider 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 Barlow Service Experts office today.