If you’re looking for a new HVAC system, chances are you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and eco-friendly features of heat pumps. Heat pumps have been a favorite in warm climates for a very long time. But considering they take heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom recommends that installing them in cold climates is not practical. This might have you asking 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 suitable for northern climates. In the last decade, the usage of heat pump technology has soared in Northern European countries like Norway and Sweden. With frequent January temperatures sitting around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these communities obviously need 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 Successful at Low Temperatures?
Heat pump technology used to be unsuitable for cooler climates. As the temperature fell below freezing, these systems were unfortunately unable to extract enough heat to effectively warm a house. But this is no longer the case. Here are the advanced features designed for cold-climate heat pumps that permit them to operate 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 function at lower speeds in mild weather and switch to higher speeds in extreme cold. This boosts efficiency in changing 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 is designed with grooved copper tubing with a greater surface area, helping the unit to transfer heat more efficiently.
- Flash injection creates a shortcut in the refrigerant loop to increase cold-weather heating performance. Efficiency falls off a bit in this mode, but it’s still superior to relying on a backup electric resistance heater.
- More powerful motors consume less electricity to increase energy savings.
- Other engineering modifications like reduced ambient flow rates, increased compressor capacity and improved compression cycle configurations further decrease energy consumption in frigid winter weather.
Traditional Heating Systems vs. Heat Pumps in Colder Climates
Heat pump efficiency is calculated by its heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF), which conveys the total heating output throughout the heating season divided by the energy consumed during 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. Many cold-climate heat pumps come with 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 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 max out at about 98% efficiency.
In terms of actual savings, results might 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 is usually less expensive than installing a heat pump. The cost gap will depend on how harsh the winter is, the utility costs in your area, whether your system was installed correctly and whether you use solar panels to offset electricity costs.
Other Factors to Think About
If you’re considering 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 engineered for efficiency, but they need to 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 federal government. The tax credit amount for qualifying installations is $300 until the end of 2022.
- Solar panels: Heat pumps use electricity, so they pair 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 a current HVAC system or exploring options for a new property, Chief/Bauer Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective choice. We’ll evalulate your home comfort needs, go over 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 Chief/Bauer Service Experts office today.