If you’re searching for a new comfort system, chances are you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and eco-friendly features of heat pumps. Heat pumps have been popular in warm climates for many years. But because they take heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom recommends that installing them in cold climates is not practical. This may have you wondering 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. Over the past decade, the adoption of heat pump technology has soared in Northern European countries such as Norway and Sweden. With average January temperatures sitting around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these areas obviously depend on powerful 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 used to be insufficient for cooler climates. As the temperature fell below freezing, these systems were unfortunately unable to capture enough heat to effectively warm a house. But this is no longer the case. Here are the advanced features used in cold-climate heat pumps that allow them to work efficiently at temperatures colder than 0 degrees F.
- Cold-weather refrigerants have a lower boiling point than traditional heat pump refrigerants, helping them to pull more heat energy from cold air.
- Multi-stage compressors run at lower speeds in moderate weather and transition to higher speeds in intense cold. This increases efficiency in changing weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more consistent.
- Variable-speed fans have multi-stage compressors to produce heated air at the proper rate.
- The upgraded 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 creates a shortcut in the refrigerant loop to boost cold-weather heating performance. Efficiency drops a bit in this mode, but it’s still better than counting on a backup electric resistance heater.
- Better motors use less electricity to boost energy savings.
- Other engineering upgrades such as reduced 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 measured by its heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF), which demonstrates the total heating output throughout the heating season divided by the energy consumed for 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. 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 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 might vary. The biggest savers are usually people who heat with common fuels like propane and oil, as well as those who use electric furnaces or electric baseboard heaters.
However, heating with natural gas still is generally less expensive than using a heat pump. The cost variation is based on how severe the winter is, the utility prices in your area, whether your equipment was installed correctly and whether you have 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 other factors:
- Design and installation: Cold-weather heat pumps are designed for efficiency, but they should be sized, designed and installed properly to perform at their best. Factors like 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 pair well with solar panels. This combination can lower your energy bills even further.
Start Saving with a Cold-Climate Heat Pump
Whether you’re replacing an old HVAC system or exploring options for a new property, BW/Cook Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective choice. We’ll assess your home comfort needs, go over your budget and point you toward the best equipment, which might 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 BW/Cook Service Experts office today.