Can Heat Pumps be Used in Northern Climates

If you’re searching for a new HVAC system, it’s likely that you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and sustainable features of heat pumps. Heat pumps have been sought after in warm climates for decades. But considering they absorb heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom indicates that installing them in cold climates is not sensible. This might have you wondering 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 suitable for northern climates. Over the past decade, the usage of heat pump technology has surged in Northern European countries like Norway and Sweden. With frequent January temperatures sitting around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these areas 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 Successful at Low Temperatures?

Heat pump technology was once unsuitable for temperate climates. As the temperature fell below freezing, these systems were just unable to collect enough heat to efficiently warm a house. But this is no longer accurate. Here are the special features found in cold-climate heat pumps that allow them to operate efficiently at temperatures colder than 0 degrees F.

  • Cold-weather coolants 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 switch to higher speeds in extreme cold. This improves efficiency in varying weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more consistent.
  • Variable-speed fans work with multi-stage compressors to supply heated air at the proper rate.
  • The upgraded coil design found in most modern heat pumps is designed with grooved copper tubing with a greater 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 much better than relying on a backup electric resistance heater.
  • Improved motors consume less electricity to boost energy savings.
  • Other engineering modifications like weaker ambient flow rates, an increase in compressor capacity and improved compression cycle configurations further decrease 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 during the heating season divided by the energy consumed during 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 come with ratings of 10 HSPF or higher, allowing 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 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 top out at about 98% efficiency.

In terms of actual savings, results might vary. The biggest savers are usually people who heat with combustible fuels such as 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 using 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 installed 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, don't forget 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 peak. Factors such as 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 are powered by electricity, so they work 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 an old HVAC system or exploring options for a new property, Eveready Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective choice. We’ll evalulate your home comfort needs, consider 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 Eveready Service Experts office today.

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