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. These systems have been sought after in warm climates for a very long time. 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 may have you asking if a heat pump is a good 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 acceptable for northern climates. In the last decade, the adoption of heat pump technology has increased significantly in Northern European countries like Norway and Sweden. With average January temperatures sitting around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these regions obviously rely on powerful heating options. Those who have installed cold-climate heat pumps have found that they fulfill their needs perfectly.
What Makes Cold-Climate Heat Pumps More Efficient at Low Temperatures?
Heat pump technology was previously unsuitable for cold climates. As the temperature dipped below freezing, these systems were unfortunately unable to collect enough heat to successfully warm a house. But this is no longer accurate. Here are the innovative features used in cold-climate heat pumps that allow them to work efficiently at temperatures lower than 0 degrees F.
- Cold-weather coolants have a lower boiling point versus traditional heat pump refrigerants, allowing them to pull more heat energy from cold air.
- Multi-stage compressors run at lower speeds in mild weather and switch to higher speeds in severe cold. This improves efficiency in varying weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more balanced.
- Variable-speed fans use multi-stage compressors to produce heated air at the proper rate.
- The enhanced coil design found in most modern heat pumps is designed with grooved copper tubing with a larger surface area, enabling the unit to transfer heat more efficiently.
- Flash injection opens 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 relying on a backup electric resistance heater.
- Better motors use less electricity to increase energy savings.
- Other engineering optimizations such as reduced ambient flow rates, greater compressor capacity and improved compression cycle configurations further reduce energy consumption in freezing 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 over 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. Many cold-climate heat pumps can boast ratings of 10 HSPF or higher, enabling 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 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 probably people who heat with combustible fuels like 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 will depend on how harsh the winter is, the utility prices in your area, whether your heat pump was installed correctly and whether you have solar panels to offset electricity costs.
Other Factors to Consider
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 engineered for efficiency, but they must be sized, designed and installed correctly to perform at their peak. Factors like home insulation levels and the placement 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 U.S. government. The tax credit amount for qualifying installations is $300 until the end of 2022.
- Solar panels: Heat pumps use electricity, so they pair 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 a current HVAC system or checking out options for a new property, McElroy Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective choice. We’ll evalulate your home comfort needs, go over your budget and suggest the best equipment, which might 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 McElroy Service Experts office today.