If you’re searching for a new comfort system, odds are you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and enviromentally friendly features of heat pumps. Heat pumps have been sought after in warm climates for decades. But because they take heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom indicates that installing them in cold climates is not sensible. This may have you wondering if a heat pump is the right 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 increased significantly in Northern European countries such as Norway and Sweden. With standard January temperatures hovering around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these communities obviously rely 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 More Effective at Low Temperatures?
Heat pump technology used to be too weak for cold climates. As the temperature dipped below freezing, these systems were just unable to capture enough heat to successfully warm a house. But this is no longer the case. Here are the special features designed for 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, allowing them to draw more heat energy from cold air.
- Multi-stage compressors function at lower speeds in moderate weather and increase to higher speeds in extreme cold. This increases efficiency in dynamic weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more consistent.
- Variable-speed fans work with multi-stage compressors to deliver heated air at the proper rate.
- The improved coil design placed in most modern heat pumps is designed with grooved copper tubing with a larger 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 falls off a bit in this mode, but it’s still much better than depending on a backup electric resistance heater.
- More powerful motors consume less electricity to increase energy savings.
- Other engineering optimizations such as weaker ambient flow rates, greater compressor capacity and enhanced compression cycle configurations further reduce 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 demonstrates 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 nationwide 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, enabling them to operate at up to 400% efficiency in moderate weather. In other words, they move four times more energy than they use in the process.
Performance dips 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.
Nevertheless, heating with natural gas still tends to be less expensive than installing a heat pump. The cost variation will depend on how tough the winter is, the utility rates in your area, whether your heat pump was installed correctly and whether you have solar panels to offset electricity costs.
Other Factors to Consider
If you’re looking at switching from a traditional furnace, boiler or electric heater to a cold-climate heat pump, consider these additional factors:
- Design and installation: Cold-weather heat pumps are built for efficiency, but they should be sized, designed and installed precisely to perform at their best. Factors like 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 federal government. The tax credit amount for qualifying installations is $300 through the end of 2022.
- Solar panels: Heat pumps run on electricity, so they pair well with solar panels. This combination can reduce your energy bills even further.
Start Saving with a Cold-Climate Heat Pump
Whether you’re replacing an old HVAC system or exploring options for a new property, Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning can help you make a cost-effective choice. We’ll evalulate your home comfort needs, go over your budget and point you toward 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 office today.