If you’re shopping for a new HVAC system, it’s likely that you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and eco-friendly features of heat pumps. Heat pumps have been sought after in warm climates for many years. But considering they take heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom indicates that installing them in cold climates is not worth the effort. This could have you questioning if a heat pump is a better 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 usage of heat pump technology has surged in Northern European countries like Norway and Sweden. With ordinary January temperatures sitting around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these areas obviously need efficient heating options. Those who have installed cold-climate heat pumps have found that they meet their needs perfectly.
What Makes Cold-Climate Heat Pumps More Effective at Low Temperatures?
Heat pump technology was previously insufficient for cooler climates. As the temperature fell below freezing, these systems were simply unable to capture enough heat to effectively warm a house. But this is no longer accurate. Here are the advanced features used in cold-climate heat pumps that permit them to work efficiently at temperatures lower than 0 degrees F.
- Cold-weather refrigerants 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 moderate weather and transition to higher speeds in intense cold. This increases efficiency in varying weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more stable.
- Variable-speed fans have multi-stage compressors to supply heated air at the proper rate.
- The enhanced coil design used in most modern heat pumps features grooved copper tubing with a bigger surface area, allowing the unit to transfer heat more efficiently.
- Flash injection creates a shortcut in the refrigerant loop to improve cold-weather heating performance. Efficiency falls off a bit in this mode, but it’s still much better than depending on a backup electric resistance heater.
- Better motors use less electricity to increase energy savings.
- Other engineering optimizations like reduced ambient flow rates, greater compressor capacity and enhanced compression cycle configurations further decrease 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 demonstrates 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 nationwide minimum efficiency rating for heat pumps will be 8.8 HSPF. The majority of cold-climate heat pumps can boast ratings of 10 HSPF or higher, allowing them to operate at up to 400% efficiency in moderate weather. In other words, they move four times more energy than they use 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 top out at about 98% efficiency.
In terms of actual savings, results can vary. The biggest savers are probably people who heat with delivered 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 running a heat pump. The cost difference will depend on how harsh the winter is, the utility costs 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 looking at switching from a traditional furnace, boiler or electric heater to a cold-climate heat pump, don't forget these additional factors:
- Design and installation: Cold-weather heat pumps are designed for efficiency, but they must be sized, designed and installed correctly to perform at their peak. 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 federal government. The tax credit amount for qualifying installations is $300 until the end of 2022.
- Solar panels: Heat pumps use 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 a current HVAC system or comparing options for a new property, Neal Harris Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective decision. We’ll assess your home comfort needs, go over 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 Neal Harris Service Experts office today.