If you’re looking for a new comfort system, chances are you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and eco-friendly features of heat pumps. These systems have been sought after in warm climates for decades. But since they absorb heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom recommends that installing them in cold climates is not worth the effort. 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 into more detail, rest assured that modern, cold-weather heat pumps are appropriate for northern climates. Over the last decade, the adoption of heat pump technology has increased significantly in Northern European countries such as Norway and Sweden. With average January temperatures hovering around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these regions obviously depend on powerful heating options. Those who have installed cold-climate heat pumps have found that they meet their needs perfectly.
What Makes Cold-Climate Heat Pumps Successful at Low Temperatures?
Heat pump technology was once too weak for cooler climates. As the temperature dropped below freezing, these systems were unfortunately unable to capture enough heat to efficiently warm a house. But this is no longer the case. Here are the special features designed for cold-climate heat pumps that permit them to perform efficiently at temperatures colder than 0 degrees F.
- Cold-weather refrigerants have a lower boiling point than traditional heat pump refrigerants, allowing them to draw more heat energy from cold air.
- Multi-stage compressors work at lower speeds in temperate weather and switch to higher speeds in intense cold. This improves efficiency in changing 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 improved coil design used in most modern heat pumps includes grooved copper tubing with a greater surface area, allowing the unit to transfer 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 depending on a backup electric resistance heater.
- Better motors consume less electricity to increase energy savings.
- Other engineering modifications like decreased ambient flow rates, greater compressor capacity and improved compression cycle configurations further decrease 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 illustrates the total heating output during 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. Many cold-climate heat pumps offer ratings of 10 HSPF or higher, allowing them to operate at up to 400% efficiency in temperate weather. In other words, they move four times more energy than they consume in the process.
Performance drops 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 max out at about 98% efficiency.
In terms of actual savings, results might vary. The biggest savers are probably people who heat with delivered fuels including 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 installing a heat pump. The cost difference is based on how severe the winter is, the utility prices 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 engineered for efficiency, but they must be sized, designed and installed precisely 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 United States government. The tax credit amount for qualifying installations is $300 until the end of 2022.
- Solar panels: Heat pumps use electricity, so they function well with solar panels. This combo can lower 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, Matz-Rightway can help you make a cost-effective decision. We’ll review your home comfort needs, consider your budget and recommend the best equipment, which could be a cold-climate heat pump or similar product. To ask questions or schedule a heat pump installation estimate, please contact your local Matz-Rightway office today.