If you’re looking for a new comfort system, it’s likely that you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and eco-friendly features of heat pumps. Heat pumps 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 suggests that installing them in cold climates is not worth the effort. This could have you questioning if a heat pump is a good 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 acceptable for northern climates. Over the last decade, the adoption of heat pump technology has soared in Northern European countries like Norway and Sweden. With average January temperatures hovering around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these communities obviously depend on 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 Successful at Low Temperatures?
Heat pump technology was previously too weak for cold climates. As the temperature dropped below freezing, these systems were unfortunately unable to extract enough heat to effectively warm a house. But this is no longer accurate. Here are the innovative features found in cold-climate heat pumps that enable them to perform efficiently at temperatures colder than 0 degrees F.
- Cold-weather coolants have a lower boiling point than traditional heat pump refrigerants, enabling them to pull more heat energy from cold air.
- Multi-stage compressors run at lower speeds in temperate weather and switch to higher speeds in severe cold. This boosts efficiency in dynamic weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more balanced.
- Variable-speed fans have multi-stage compressors to deliver heated air at the proper rate.
- The enhanced 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 up a shortcut in the refrigerant loop to increase cold-weather heating performance. Efficiency drops a bit in this mode, but it’s still much better than counting on a backup electric resistance heater.
- More powerful motors consume less electricity to increase energy savings.
- Other engineering optimizations like weaker ambient flow rates, an increase in compressor capacity and improved compression cycle configurations further reduce 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 demonstrates 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 national minimum efficiency rating for heat pumps will be 8.8 HSPF. Lots of cold-climate heat pumps can boast ratings of 10 HSPF or higher, allowing 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 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 can vary. The biggest savers are probably 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 using a heat pump. The cost variation depends on how harsh the winter is, the utility rates 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 thinking of 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 should be sized, designed and installed properly to perform at their peak. Factors such as home insulation levels and the location 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 through the end of 2022.
- Solar panels: Heat pumps run on 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 existing HVAC system or exploring options for a new property, Strogen's Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective decision. We’ll evalulate your home comfort needs, take a look at your budget and recommend the best equipment, which may be a cold-climate heat pump or another kind of system. To ask questions or schedule a heat pump installation estimate, please contact your local Strogen's Service Experts office today.