If you’re searching for a new HVAC system, odds 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 considering they use heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom suggests that installing them in cold climates is not worth the effort. 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 suitable for northern climates. Over the last decade, the acceptance of heat pump technology has increased significantly in Northern European countries like Norway and Sweden. With ordinary January temperatures sitting around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these communities obviously rely on effective heating options. Those who have installed cold-climate heat pumps have found that they fulfill their needs perfectly.
What Makes Cold-Climate Heat Pumps More Efficient at Low Temperatures?
Heat pump technology was once unsuitable for cooler climates. As the temperature dropped below freezing, these systems were unfortunately unable to capture enough heat to effectively warm a house. But this is no longer accurate. Here are the advanced features found in cold-climate heat pumps that enable them to operate efficiently at temperatures below 0 degrees F.
- Cold-weather refrigerants have a lower boiling point compared to traditional heat pump refrigerants, enabling them to draw more heat energy from cold air.
- Multi-stage compressors run at lower speeds in moderate weather and switch to higher speeds in intense cold. This improves efficiency in dynamic weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more consistent.
- Variable-speed fans use multi-stage compressors to supply heated air at the proper rate.
- The upgraded coil design placed in most modern heat pumps features grooved copper tubing with a bigger surface area, enabling 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 better than relying on a backup electric resistance heater.
- Improved motors consume less electricity to increase energy savings.
- Other engineering modifications such as weaker ambient flow rates, greater 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 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.
Beginning in 2023, the national minimum efficiency rating for heat pumps will be 8.8 HSPF. The majority of cold-climate heat pumps offer ratings of 10 HSPF or higher, enabling 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 drops 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 top out at about 98% efficiency.
In terms of actual savings, results may vary. The biggest savers are probably people who heat with combustible fuels including 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 running a heat pump. The cost difference will depend on how harsh the winter is, the utility costs in your area, whether your equipment was installed correctly and whether you have solar panels to offset electricity costs.
Other Factors to Think About
If you’re thinking of transitioning 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 engineered 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 federal government. The tax credit amount for qualifying installations is $300 until the end of 2022.
- Solar panels: Heat pumps run on electricity, so they pair well with solar panels. This collaboration can reduce your energy bills even further.
Start Saving with a Cold-Climate Heat Pump
Whether you’re replacing a current HVAC system or checking out options for a new property, Stevenson Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective decision. We’ll assess your home comfort needs, go over your budget and recommend the best equipment, which might 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 Stevenson Service Experts office today.