Can Heat Pumps be Used in Northern Climates

If you’re looking for a new comfort system, chances are you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and sustainable features of heat pumps. Heat pumps have been a favorite in warm climates for a very long time. But considering 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 questioning 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 adoption of heat pump technology has soared in Northern European countries such as Norway and Sweden. With ordinary January temperatures sitting around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these areas obviously rely on powerful 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 was previously insufficient for cooler climates. As the temperature fell below freezing, these systems were just unable to extract enough heat to effectively warm a house. But this is no longer accurate. Here are the innovative features used in cold-climate heat pumps that allow them to perform efficiently at temperatures below 0 degrees F.

  • Cold-weather refrigerants have a lower boiling point than traditional heat pump refrigerants, allowing them to pull more heat energy from cold air.
  • Multi-stage compressors function at lower speeds in mild weather and increase to higher speeds in intense cold. This improves efficiency in varying weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more consistent.
  • Variable-speed fans have multi-stage compressors to deliver heated air at the proper rate.
  • The improved coil design found in most modern heat pumps includes grooved copper tubing with a greater surface area, enabling the unit to exchange 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 much better than counting on a backup electric resistance heater.
  • More powerful motors use less electricity to increase energy savings.
  • Other engineering upgrades such as reduced ambient flow rates, greater 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 illustrates the total heating output during the heating season divided by the energy consumed during 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, helping them to operate at up to 400% efficiency in mild weather. In other words, they move four times more energy than they use 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 can vary. The biggest savers are usually people who heat with delivered 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 tends to be less expensive than using a heat pump. The cost difference will depend on how harsh the winter is, the utility rates in your area, whether your heat pump was installed correctly and whether you have solar panels to offset electricity costs.

Other Factors to Think About

If you’re considering 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 designed for efficiency, but they need to be sized, designed and installed properly to perform at their peak. Factors like 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 federal 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 checking out options for a new property, Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning can help you make a cost-effective decision. We’ll evalulate your home comfort needs, consider your budget and suggest the best equipment, which may be a cold-climate heat pump or similar product. To ask questions or schedule a heat pump installation estimate, please contact your local Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning office today.

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