If you’re shopping for a new HVAC system, chances are you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and enviromentally friendly features of heat pumps. Heat pumps have been popular in warm climates for decades. But considering they absorb heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom recommends that installing them in cold climates is not practical. This could have you asking if a heat pump is a better 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 appropriate for northern climates. In the last decade, the usage of heat pump technology has soared in Northern European countries like Norway and Sweden. With ordinary January temperatures hovering around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these areas obviously need effective 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 Efficient at Low Temperatures?
Heat pump technology used to be too weak for cold climates. As the temperature dropped below freezing, these systems were unfortunately unable to capture enough heat to effectively warm a house. But this is no longer accurate. Here are the innovative features found in cold-climate heat pumps that allow them to perform efficiently at temperatures lower than 0 degrees F.
- Cold-weather refrigerants have a lower boiling point versus traditional heat pump refrigerants, helping them to pull more heat energy from cold air.
- Multi-stage compressors work at lower speeds in temperate weather and increase to higher speeds in intense cold. This boosts 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 enhanced coil design used in most modern heat pumps is designed with 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 increase 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 consume less electricity to boost energy savings.
- Other engineering optimizations like weaker ambient flow rates, increased compressor capacity and enhanced compression cycle configurations further lower energy consumption in frigid winter weather.
Traditional Heating Systems vs. Heat Pumps in Colder Climates
Heat pump efficiency is determined by its heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF), which conveys the total heating output throughout the heating season divided by the energy consumed during 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. Lots of cold-climate heat pumps offer ratings of 10 HSPF or higher, helping 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 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 probably people who heat with combustible fuels including propane and oil, as well as those who use electric furnaces or electric baseboard heaters.
That being said, heating with natural gas still is usually less expensive than installing a heat pump. The cost variation depends on how harsh the winter is, the utility rates in your area, whether your equipment was installed correctly and whether you have solar panels to offset electricity costs.
Other Factors to Think About
If you’re thinking of switching from a traditional furnace, boiler or electric heater to a cold-climate heat pump, remember these additional factors:
- Design and installation: Cold-weather heat pumps are built for efficiency, but they should be sized, designed and installed precisely to perform at their best. Factors like home insulation levels and the location 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 U.S. government. The tax credit amount for qualifying installations is $300 until the end of 2022.
- Solar panels: Heat pumps run on electricity, so they function well with solar panels. This combination can reduce 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, Komfort Air Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective choice. We’ll review your home comfort needs, take a look at your budget and recommend the best equipment, which could be a cold-climate heat pump or another solution. To ask questions or schedule a heat pump installation estimate, please contact your local Komfort Air Service Experts office today.