Can Heat Pumps be Used in Northern Climates?

If you’re searching for a new home comfort system, it’s likely that you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and eco-friendly features of heat pumps. These systems have been popular in warm climates for decades. But because they absorb heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom suggests that installing them in cold climates is not practical. This could have you questioning 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. In the last decade, the usage of heat pump technology has surged in Northern European countries like Norway and Sweden. With frequent January temperatures hovering around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these communities obviously need powerful 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 too weak for cooler climates. As the temperature dipped below freezing, these systems were simply unable to extract enough heat to successfully warm a house. But this is no longer the case. Here are the innovative 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 than traditional heat pump refrigerants, helping them to pull more heat energy from cold air.
    • Multi-stage compressors work at lower speeds in moderate weather and switch to higher speeds in extreme cold. This improves efficiency in changing 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 enhanced coil design found in most modern heat pumps includes grooved copper tubing with a bigger 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 falls off a bit in this mode, but it’s still better than counting on a backup electric resistance heater.
    • Improved motors require less electricity to increase energy savings.
    • Other engineering upgrades like reduced ambient flow rates, greater compressor capacity and enhanced compression cycle configurations further decrease energy consumption in freezing winter weather.

Traditional Heating Systems vs. Heat Pumps in Colder Climates

Heat pump efficiency is calculated by its heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF), which conveys the total heating output during 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, enabling them to operate at up to 400% efficiency in mild weather. In other words, they move four times more energy than they use in the process.

Performance drops 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 may vary. The biggest savers are usually people who heat with combustible fuels like propane and oil, as well as those who use electric furnaces or electric baseboard heaters.

However, heating with natural gas still is usually less expensive than using a heat pump. The cost difference depends on how harsh 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 Think About

If you’re thinking of transitioning from a traditional furnace, boiler or electric heater to a cold-climate heat pump, remember these additional factors:

    • Design and installation: Cold-weather heat pumps are engineered for efficiency, but they must be sized, designed and installed properly to perform at their best. Factors such as home insulation levels and the location 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 United States 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 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 an existing HVAC system or checking out options for a new property, Winnipeg Supply Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective decision. We’ll assess your home comfort needs, take a look at 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 Winnipeg Supply Service Experts office today.

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