If you’re looking for a new home comfort system, chances are you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and enviromentally friendly features of heat pumps. Heat pumps have been popular in warm climates for decades. But because they take heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom recommends that installing them in cold climates is not worth the effort. This might have you questioning 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 acceptable for northern climates. Over the past decade, the usage of heat pump technology has increased significantly in Northern European countries like Norway and Sweden. With standard January temperatures hovering around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these communities 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 was once too weak for temperate climates. As the temperature fell below freezing, these systems were simply unable to extract enough heat to efficiently warm a house. But this is no longer the case. Here are the advanced features designed for 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, enabling them to draw more heat energy from cold air.
- Multi-stage compressors function at lower speeds in moderate weather and switch to higher speeds in intense cold. This improves efficiency in varying weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more stable.
- Variable-speed fans use multi-stage compressors to deliver heated air at the proper rate.
- The enhanced coil design placed 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 creates a shortcut in the refrigerant loop to boost 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 require less electricity to increase energy savings.
- Other engineering optimizations such as reduced ambient flow rates, an increase in compressor capacity and improved compression cycle configurations further lower energy consumption in icy 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. Lots of cold-climate heat pumps offer 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 falls 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 can vary. The biggest savers are probably people who heat with delivered fuels including propane and oil, as well as those who use electric furnaces or electric baseboard heaters.
That being said, heating with natural gas still tends to be less expensive than running a heat pump. The cost variation depends on how harsh the winter is, the utility prices in your area, whether your system 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 designed for efficiency, but they need to 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 reduce 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 are powered by electricity, so they function 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, Rolf Griffin Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective choice. We’ll assess your home comfort needs, take a look at your budget and point you toward the best equipment, which might be a cold-climate heat pump or another solution. To ask questions or schedule a heat pump installation estimate, please contact your local Rolf Griffin Service Experts office today.