If you’re looking for a new HVAC system, odds are you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and enviromentally friendly features of heat pumps. Heat pumps have been popular in warm climates for a very long time. But because they absorb heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom indicates that installing them in cold climates is not practical. This might have you asking 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 past decade, the acceptance of heat pump technology has soared in Northern European countries like Norway and Sweden. With regular January temperatures hovering around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these regions 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 unsuitable for cold climates. As the temperature dropped below freezing, these systems were just unable to extract enough heat to effectively warm a house. But this is no longer the case. Here are the advanced features found in cold-climate heat pumps that allow them to operate efficiently at temperatures colder than 0 degrees F.
- Cold-weather refrigerants have a lower boiling point versus traditional heat pump refrigerants, allowing them to draw more heat energy from cold air.
- Multi-stage compressors work at lower speeds in moderate weather and transition to higher speeds in extreme cold. This improves efficiency in changing weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more balanced.
- Variable-speed fans use multi-stage compressors to deliver heated air at the proper rate.
- The improved coil design used in most modern heat pumps includes grooved copper tubing with a larger surface area, allowing the unit to transfer heat more efficiently.
- Flash injection creates a shortcut in the refrigerant loop to improve cold-weather heating performance. Efficiency drops a bit in this mode, but it’s still superior to counting on a backup electric resistance heater.
- Better motors use less electricity to increase energy savings.
- Other engineering optimizations like weaker ambient flow rates, increased compressor capacity and enhanced compression cycle configurations further lower 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 illustrates 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. Many cold-climate heat pumps can boast 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 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 can vary. The biggest savers are usually 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 is generally less expensive than using a heat pump. The cost gap is based on how tough the winter is, the utility costs in your area, whether your heat pump was installed correctly and whether you have solar panels to offset electricity costs.
Other Factors to Take into Consideration
If you’re looking at switching 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 built for efficiency, but they must be sized, designed and installed correctly to perform at their peak. Factors such as 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 U.S. government. The tax credit amount for qualifying installations is $300 until the end of 2022.
- Solar panels: Heat pumps are powered by electricity, so they function 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 a current HVAC system or comparing options for a new property, Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning can help you make a cost-effective decision. We’ll review your home comfort needs, take a look at your budget and suggest the best equipment, which might 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 office today.