Can Heat Pumps be Used in Northern Climates

If you’re shopping for a new HVAC system, it’s likely that you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and enviromentally friendly features of heat pumps. These systems have been popular in warm climates for a very long time. But considering they use heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom indicates that installing them in cold climates is not sensible. This might have you asking if a heat pump is a good 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 suitable for northern climates. In the last decade, the adoption of heat pump technology has soared in Northern European countries such as Norway and Sweden. With frequent January temperatures sitting around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these regions obviously need efficient heating options. Those who have installed cold-climate heat pumps have been delighted to discover that they fulfill their needs perfectly.

What Makes Cold-Climate Heat Pumps More Effective at Low Temperatures?

Heat pump technology was once too weak for cold climates. As the temperature dropped below freezing, these systems were unfortunately unable to collect enough heat to efficiently warm a house. But this is no longer the case. Here are the innovative 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 versus traditional heat pump refrigerants, helping them to collect more heat energy from cold air.
  • Multi-stage compressors function 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 use multi-stage compressors to deliver heated air at the proper rate.
  • The enhanced coil design placed in most modern heat pumps is designed with grooved copper tubing with a larger surface area, helping the unit to exchange heat more efficiently.
  • Flash injection creates a shortcut in the refrigerant loop to boost cold-weather heating performance. Efficiency falls off a bit in this mode, but it’s still superior to relying on a backup electric resistance heater.
  • Better motors consume less electricity to increase energy savings.
  • Other engineering modifications like decreased ambient flow rates, increased compressor capacity and improved compression cycle configurations further reduce energy consumption in icy winter weather.

Traditional Heating Systems vs. Heat Pumps in Colder Climates

Heat pump efficiency is measured by its heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF), which conveys the total heating output over 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. Many cold-climate heat pumps come with ratings of 10 HSPF or higher, allowing 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 dips 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 max out at about 98% efficiency.

In terms of actual savings, results might vary. The biggest savers are probably people who heat with common fuels such as 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 variation depends on how harsh the winter is, the utility prices in your area, whether your equipment was installed correctly and whether you installed solar panels to offset electricity costs.

Other Factors to Consider

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 should 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 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 through the end of 2022.
  • Solar panels: Heat pumps run on electricity, so they work 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 old HVAC system or comparing options for a new property, Knochelmann Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective decision. We’ll evalulate your home comfort needs, go over your budget and suggest the best equipment, which could 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 Knochelmann Service Experts office today.

chat now widget box