Can Heat Pumps be Used in Northern Climates?

If you’re searching for a new HVAC 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 a very long time. But because they absorb heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom recommends that installing them in cold climates is not sensible. This could have you asking 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 past decade, the adoption 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 depend on efficient 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 Effective at Low Temperatures? 

Heat pump technology was previously insufficient for temperate 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 found in cold-climate heat pumps that enable them to work efficiently at temperatures colder than 0 degrees F. 

  • Cold-weather coolants have a lower boiling point compared to traditional heat pump refrigerants, helping them to pull more heat energy from cold air. 
  • Multi-stage compressors run at lower speeds in moderate weather and increase to higher speeds in intense cold. This increases efficiency in varying weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more consistent. 
  • Variable-speed fans use multi-stage compressors to deliver heated air at the proper rate. 
  • The improved coil design used in most modern heat pumps features grooved copper tubing with a greater surface area, enabling the unit to transfer heat more efficiently. 
  • Flash injection creates a shortcut in the refrigerant loop to improve cold-weather heating performance. Efficiency falls off a bit in this mode, but it’s still superior to depending on a backup electric resistance heater. 
  • More powerful motors require less electricity to increase energy savings. 
  • Other engineering upgrades such as weaker ambient flow rates, an increase in compressor capacity and improved compression cycle configurations further lower energy consumption in freezing 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 during 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 offer ratings of 10 HSPF or higher, helping 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 dips as the temperature drops, but numerous 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 might vary. The biggest savers are likely to be people who heat with delivered fuels such as propane and oil, as well as those who use electric furnaces or electric baseboard heaters. 

That being said, heating with natural gas still tends to be less expensive than using a heat pump. The cost variation is based 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 Take into Consideration 

If you’re looking at transitioning from a traditional furnace, boiler or electric heater to a cold-climate heat pump, remember 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 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 United States government. The tax credit amount for qualifying installations is $300 until the end of 2022. 
  • Solar panels: Heat pumps use electricity, so they function well with solar panels. This collaboration can lower your energy bills even further. 

Start Saving with a Cold-Climate Heat Pump 

Whether you’re replacing a current HVAC system or exploring options for a new property, Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing can help you make a cost-effective choice. We’ll evaluate your home comfort needs, go over your budget and suggest the best equipment, which could be a cold-climate heat pump or another solution. 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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