If you’re shopping for a new home comfort system, chances are you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and eco-friendly features of heat pumps. These systems have been sought after in warm climates for decades. But since they use 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 wondering if a heat pump is a good 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 acceptable 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 average January temperatures hovering around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these communities obviously depend on efficient heating options. Those who have installed cold-climate heat pumps have been delighted to discover that they fulfill their needs perfectly.
What Makes Cold-Climate Heat Pumps More Efficient at Low Temperatures?
Heat pump technology was previously unsuitable for temperate climates. As the temperature fell below freezing, these systems were simply unable to collect enough heat to successfully warm a house. But this is no longer the case. Here are the special features used in cold-climate heat pumps that enable them to perform efficiently at temperatures lower than 0 degrees F.
- Cold-weather coolants have a lower boiling point versus traditional heat pump refrigerants, enabling them to pull more heat energy from cold air.
- Multi-stage compressors function at lower speeds in temperate weather and transition to higher speeds in intense cold. This increases efficiency in varying weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more stable.
- Variable-speed fans work with multi-stage compressors to produce heated air at the proper rate.
- The improved coil design used in most modern heat pumps includes grooved copper tubing with a bigger surface area, helping the unit to transfer heat more efficiently.
- Flash injection opens a shortcut in the refrigerant loop to boost cold-weather heating performance. Efficiency drops a bit in this mode, but it’s still superior to relying on a backup electric resistance heater.
- Improved motors use less electricity to boost energy savings.
- Other engineering modifications like reduced ambient flow rates, greater compressor capacity and enhanced compression cycle configurations further lower energy consumption in frigid 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 for 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. Lots 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 consume in the process.
Performance dips 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 top 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 including propane and oil, as well as those who use electric furnaces or electric baseboard heaters.
However, heating with natural gas still tends to be less expensive than using a heat pump. The cost variation will depend on how severe the winter is, the utility prices in your area, whether your heat pump was installed correctly and whether you use solar panels to offset electricity costs.
Other Factors to Take into Consideration
If you’re considering 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 built for efficiency, but they must be sized, designed and installed precisely to perform at their peak. Factors such as home insulation levels and the location of the outdoor unit can also affect system performance.
- Tax credits: You can save on heat pump installation costs with energy tax credits from the U.S. government. The tax credit amount for qualifying installations is $300 up to the end of 2022.
- Solar panels: Heat pumps run on electricity, so they function 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 existing HVAC system or comparing options for a new property, Broad Ripple Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective decision. We’ll assess your home comfort needs, consider your budget and recommend the best equipment, which might be a cold-climate heat pump or another solution. To ask questions or schedule a heat pump installation estimate, please contact your local Broad Ripple Service Experts office today.