If you’re looking for a new HVAC system, odds are you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and enviromentally friendly features of heat pumps. These systems have been sought after in warm climates for a very long time. But since they take heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom suggests that installing them in cold climates is not sensible. This may have you asking 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. In the last decade, the adoption of heat pump technology has increased significantly in Northern European countries such as Norway and Sweden. With standard January temperatures hovering around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these areas obviously depend 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 Successful 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 efficiently warm a house. But this is no longer the case. Here are the innovative features found in cold-climate heat pumps that enable them to operate efficiently at temperatures below 0 degrees F.
- Cold-weather coolants have a lower boiling point than traditional heat pump refrigerants, enabling them to draw more heat energy from cold air.
- Multi-stage compressors run at lower speeds in temperate weather and increase to higher speeds in intense cold. This boosts efficiency in varying weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more stable.
- Variable-speed fans have multi-stage compressors to deliver heated air at the proper rate.
- The improved coil design placed in most modern heat pumps features grooved copper tubing with a greater surface area, enabling the unit to transfer heat more efficiently.
- Flash injection opens a shortcut in the refrigerant loop to improve 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.
- More powerful motors require less electricity to boost energy savings.
- Other engineering optimizations such as reduced ambient flow rates, an increase in compressor capacity and enhanced compression cycle configurations further reduce energy consumption in icy winter weather.
Traditional Heating Systems vs. Heat Pumps in Colder Climates
Heat pump efficiency is determined by its heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF), which illustrates the total heating output over 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. Lots of cold-climate heat pumps offer ratings of 10 HSPF or higher, enabling 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 dips 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 top out at about 98% efficiency.
In terms of actual savings, results may vary. The biggest savers are likely to be people who heat with combustible fuels such as propane and oil, as well as those who use electric furnaces or electric baseboard heaters.
That being said, heating with natural gas still is generally less expensive than running a heat pump. The cost gap depends on how harsh the winter is, the utility rates in your area, whether your equipment was installed correctly and whether you installed solar panels to offset electricity costs.
Other Factors to Take into Consideration
If you’re thinking of transitioning 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 must be sized, designed and installed properly to perform at their best. Factors such as home insulation levels and the placement of the outdoor unit can also impact 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 pair 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 a current HVAC system or checking out options for a new property, Parker Pearce Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective choice. We’ll review your home comfort needs, consider your budget and recommend 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 Parker Pearce Service Experts office today.