If you’re looking for a new HVAC 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 considering they take heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom recommends that installing them in cold climates is not sensible. This might have you questioning 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 suitable for northern climates. Over the past decade, the adoption of heat pump technology has soared in Northern European countries like Norway and Sweden. With standard January temperatures hovering around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these regions obviously rely on efficient 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 was once too weak for cold climates. As the temperature dropped below freezing, these systems were just unable to collect enough heat to effectively warm a house. But this is no longer the case. Here are the special features designed for cold-climate heat pumps that permit them to perform efficiently at temperatures below 0 degrees F.
- Cold-weather coolants have a lower boiling point than traditional heat pump refrigerants, allowing them to collect more heat energy from cold air.
- Multi-stage compressors run at lower speeds in mild weather and transition to higher speeds in severe cold. This improves efficiency in dynamic weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more consistent.
- Variable-speed fans use multi-stage compressors to produce heated air at the proper rate.
- The improved coil design placed in most modern heat pumps includes grooved copper tubing with a bigger surface area, allowing the unit to exchange heat more efficiently.
- Flash injection opens up a shortcut in the refrigerant loop to boost cold-weather heating performance. Efficiency falls off a bit in this mode, but it’s still better than relying on a backup electric resistance heater.
- Improved motors require less electricity to increase energy savings.
- Other engineering modifications like reduced ambient flow rates, an increase in 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 measured by its heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF), which illustrates the total heating output throughout the heating season divided by the energy consumed for 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 come with 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 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 may vary. The biggest savers are likely to be 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 tends to be less expensive than using a heat pump. The cost variation will depend on how tough the winter is, the utility rates in your area, whether your equipment was installed correctly and whether you have solar panels to offset electricity costs.
Other Factors to Consider
If you’re looking at switching from a traditional furnace, boiler or electric heater to a cold-climate heat pump, remember these other factors:
- Design and installation: Cold-weather heat pumps are built for efficiency, but they should be sized, designed and installed correctly to perform at their peak. 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 United States 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 reduce your energy bills even further.
Start Saving with a Cold-Climate Heat Pump
Whether you’re replacing a current HVAC system or exploring options for a new property, Freschi 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 could be a cold-climate heat pump or similar product. To ask questions or schedule a heat pump installation estimate, please contact your local Freschi Service Experts office today.