If you’re shopping for a new comfort system, chances are you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and enviromentally friendly features of heat pumps. Heat pumps have been sought after in warm climates for many years. But because they use heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom recommends that installing them in cold climates is not sensible. This may have you questioning if a heat pump is the right 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 appropriate for northern climates. Over the past decade, the acceptance of heat pump technology has increased significantly in Northern European countries like Norway and Sweden. With standard January temperatures sitting around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these communities obviously rely on efficient heating options. Those who have installed cold-climate heat pumps have been delighted to discover that they meet their needs perfectly.
What Makes Cold-Climate Heat Pumps More Efficient at Low Temperatures?
Heat pump technology was once unsuitable for temperate climates. As the temperature fell below freezing, these systems were just unable to capture enough heat to effectively warm a house. But this is no longer accurate. Here are the innovative features found in cold-climate heat pumps that permit them to work 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 run at lower speeds in moderate weather and increase to higher speeds in severe cold. This increases efficiency in changing weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more balanced.
- Variable-speed fans have multi-stage compressors to produce heated air at the proper rate.
- The improved coil design found in most modern heat pumps includes grooved copper tubing with a bigger surface area, allowing 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 relying on a backup electric resistance heater.
- Better motors require less electricity to increase energy savings.
- Other engineering modifications such as decreased 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 calculated by its heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF), which conveys the total heating output throughout the heating season divided by the energy consumed for that period. The higher the HSPF, the better the efficiency.
Starting in 2023, the national minimum efficiency rating for heat pumps will be 8.8 HSPF. Lots of cold-climate heat pumps come with 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 consume in the process.
Performance falls 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 max out at about 98% efficiency.
In terms of actual savings, results may vary. The biggest savers are likely to be people who heat with common fuels like propane and oil, as well as those who use electric furnaces or electric baseboard heaters.
That being said, heating with natural gas still is usually less expensive than installing a heat pump. The cost gap depends on how tough 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 looking at switching 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 properly to perform at their best. Factors like 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 United States government. The tax credit amount for qualifying installations is $300 up to the end of 2022.
- Solar panels: Heat pumps are powered by electricity, so they function well with solar panels. This combo can reduce your energy bills even further.
Start Saving with a Cold-Climate Heat Pump
Whether you’re replacing an existing HVAC system or exploring options for a new property, Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning 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 may 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 Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning office today.