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. Heat pumps have been popular in warm climates for decades. But considering they use heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom recommends 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 into more detail, rest assured that modern, cold-weather heat pumps are appropriate for northern climates. Over the past decade, the usage of heat pump technology has surged in Northern European countries such as Norway and Sweden. With average January temperatures hovering around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these communities obviously depend on efficient heating options. Those who have installed cold-climate heat pumps have found that they meet their needs perfectly.

What Makes Cold-Climate Heat Pumps Successful at Low Temperatures?

Heat pump technology was previously insufficient for cold climates. As the temperature dropped below freezing, these systems were simply unable to collect enough heat to efficiently warm a house. But this is no longer accurate. Here are the innovative features used in cold-climate heat pumps that permit them to perform efficiently at temperatures colder than 0 degrees F.

  • Cold-weather refrigerants have a lower boiling point compared to 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 boosts efficiency in varying weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more consistent.
  • Variable-speed fans have multi-stage compressors to deliver heated air at the proper rate.
  • The improved coil design used in most modern heat pumps features grooved copper tubing with a bigger surface area, allowing the unit to exchange heat more efficiently.
  • Flash injection creates a shortcut in the refrigerant loop to improve 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.
  • More powerful motors use less electricity to boost energy savings.
  • Other engineering optimizations like decreased ambient flow rates, greater compressor capacity and improved compression cycle configurations further lower energy consumption in freezing 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 during 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. Lots of 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 usually people who heat with delivered 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 usually less expensive than running a heat pump. The cost gap depends on how harsh the winter is, the utility costs in your area, whether your system was installed correctly and whether you use 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, don't forget these other factors:

  • Design and installation: Cold-weather heat pumps are engineered for efficiency, but they need to be sized, designed and installed precisely to perform at their peak. Factors like home insulation levels and the location of the outdoor unit can also reduce 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 through the end of 2022.
  • Solar panels: Heat pumps use electricity, so they work well with solar panels. This collaboration can reduce 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, Stallion Heating Plumbing Air Conditioning can help you make a cost-effective decision. We’ll evalulate your home comfort needs, go over your budget and suggest the best equipment, which could be a cold-climate heat pump or another solution. To ask questions or schedule a heat pump installation estimate, please contact your local Stallion Heating Plumbing Air Conditioning office today.

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