If you’re looking for a new HVAC system, chances are you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and eco-friendly features of heat pumps. These systems have been sought after in warm climates for decades. But considering they use heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom suggests that installing them in cold climates is not worth the effort. 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 acceptance of heat pump technology has increased significantly in Northern European countries like Norway and Sweden. With frequent January temperatures hovering around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these communities obviously depend 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 More Efficient at Low Temperatures?
Heat pump technology was previously too weak for cold climates. As the temperature dipped below freezing, these systems were unfortunately unable to extract enough heat to successfully warm a house. But this is no longer the case. Here are the innovative features used in cold-climate heat pumps that permit them to perform efficiently at temperatures below 0 degrees F.
- Cold-weather coolants have a lower boiling point compared to traditional heat pump refrigerants, helping them to pull more heat energy from cold air.
- Multi-stage compressors function at lower speeds in mild weather and transition to higher speeds in extreme cold. This increases efficiency in changing weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more balanced.
- Variable-speed fans use multi-stage compressors to deliver heated air at the proper rate.
- The upgraded coil design used 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 increase cold-weather heating performance. Efficiency drops a bit in this mode, but it’s still better than depending on a backup electric resistance heater.
- More powerful motors require less electricity to boost energy savings.
- Other engineering modifications such as decreased ambient flow rates, an increase in compressor capacity and enhanced compression cycle configurations further decrease energy consumption in freezing winter weather.
Traditional Heating Systems vs. Heat Pumps in Colder Climates
Heat pump efficiency is measured by its heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF), which demonstrates 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 nationwide minimum efficiency rating for heat pumps will be 8.8 HSPF. The majority of cold-climate heat pumps offer ratings of 10 HSPF or higher, helping 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 numerous 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 can 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.
Nevertheless, heating with natural gas still is usually less expensive than using a heat pump. The cost variation is based on how severe the winter is, the utility costs in your area, whether your heat pump was installed correctly and whether you installed solar panels to offset electricity costs.
Other Factors to Consider
If you’re thinking of switching from a traditional furnace, boiler or electric heater to a cold-climate heat pump, consider these other factors:
- Design and installation: Cold-weather heat pumps are designed for efficiency, but they need to be sized, designed and installed correctly to perform at their best. Factors such as home insulation levels and the location 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 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 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 existing HVAC system or comparing options for a new property, Peitz Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective decision. We’ll evalulate your home comfort needs, take a look at your budget and recommend the best equipment, which may be a cold-climate heat pump or another solution. To ask questions or schedule a heat pump installation estimate, please contact your local Peitz Service Experts office today.