Can Heat Pumps be Used in Northern Climates?

If you’re searching for a new home comfort system, odds are you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and enviromentally friendly features of heat pumps. These systems have been popular in warm climates for a very long time. But considering they use heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom indicates that installing them in cold climates is not sensible. This could have you questioning 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 suitable for northern climates. In the last decade, the acceptance of heat pump technology has surged in Northern European countries such as Norway and Sweden. With standard January temperatures hovering around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these areas obviously depend on effective 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 insufficient for cold climates. As the temperature dropped below freezing, these systems were just unable to extract enough heat to efficiently warm a house. But this is no longer accurate. Here are the special features used 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 draw more heat energy from cold air.
    • Multi-stage compressors work at lower speeds in mild weather and increase to higher speeds in severe cold. This improves efficiency in varying weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more stable.
    • Variable-speed fans use multi-stage compressors to supply heated air at the proper rate.
    • The upgraded coil design used in most modern heat pumps includes grooved copper tubing with a greater surface area, helping the unit to exchange heat more efficiently.
    • Flash injection opens a shortcut in the refrigerant loop to increase cold-weather heating performance. Efficiency drops a bit in this mode, but it’s still superior to counting on a backup electric resistance heater.
    • Improved motors use less electricity to increase energy savings.
    • Other engineering upgrades such as weaker ambient flow rates, greater compressor capacity and enhanced compression cycle configurations further decrease 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 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. The majority of cold-climate heat pumps offer ratings of 10 HSPF or higher, helping them to operate at up to 400% efficiency in moderate weather. In other words, they move four times more energy than they consume 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 top out at about 98% efficiency.

In terms of actual savings, results can vary. The biggest savers are probably people who heat with delivered fuels such as 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 running a heat pump. The cost gap will depend on how severe the winter is, the utility prices in your area, whether your system was installed correctly and whether you use solar panels to offset electricity costs.

Other Factors to Consider

If you’re thinking of 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 designed for efficiency, but they must 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 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 work 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 an existing HVAC system or checking out options for a new property, Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing can help you make a cost-effective decision. We’ll review your home comfort needs, go over your budget and point you toward the best equipment, which may be a cold-climate heat pump or similar product. 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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