Can Heat Pumps be Used in Northern Climates

If you’re looking for a new comfort system, it’s likely that you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and sustainable features of heat pumps. These systems have been sought after in warm climates for a very long time. But since they absorb heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom suggests that installing them in cold climates is not worth the effort. This may have you asking if a heat pump is the right 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 acceptance of heat pump technology has surged in Northern European countries such as Norway and Sweden. With regular January temperatures hovering around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these areas obviously need powerful heating options. Those who have installed cold-climate heat pumps have been delighted to discover that they fulfill their needs perfectly.

What Makes Cold-Climate Heat Pumps More Effective at Low Temperatures?

Heat pump technology used to be insufficient for temperate climates. As the temperature fell 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 advanced features designed for cold-climate heat pumps that enable them to operate efficiently at temperatures colder than 0 degrees F.

  • Cold-weather refrigerants have a lower boiling point than traditional heat pump refrigerants, helping them to collect more heat energy from cold air.
  • Multi-stage compressors work at lower speeds in moderate weather and switch to higher speeds in severe cold. This boosts efficiency in changing weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more consistent.
  • Variable-speed fans work with multi-stage compressors to produce heated air at the proper rate.
  • The improved 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 creates a shortcut in the refrigerant loop to boost 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 use less electricity to boost energy savings.
  • Other engineering upgrades like decreased ambient flow rates, an increase in 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 calculated by its heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF), which demonstrates 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. The majority 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 many 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 might vary. The biggest savers are probably people who heat with common 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 running a heat pump. The cost variation will depend on how tough the winter is, the utility prices 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 considering transitioning from a traditional furnace, boiler or electric heater to a cold-climate heat pump, consider these additional factors:

  • Design and installation: Cold-weather heat pumps are designed for efficiency, but they should be sized, designed and installed properly to perform at their best. 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 up to the end of 2022.
  • Solar panels: Heat pumps run on electricity, so they function 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 old HVAC system or exploring options for a new property, Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning 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 may 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 Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning office today.

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