Can Heat Pumps be Used in Northern Climates

If you’re searching for a new comfort system, chances are you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and eco-friendly features of heat pumps. These systems have been a favorite in warm climates for decades. But since they absorb heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom indicates that installing them in cold climates is not practical. 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 into more detail, rest assured that modern, cold-weather heat pumps are suitable for northern climates. Over the last decade, the usage of heat pump technology has soared in Northern European countries like Norway and Sweden. With ordinary January temperatures hovering around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these communities obviously rely on effective 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 Effective at Low Temperatures?

Heat pump technology was previously insufficient for cold climates. As the temperature fell below freezing, these systems were simply unable to extract enough heat to successfully warm a house. But this is no longer the case. Here are the advanced features found in cold-climate heat pumps that allow them to work efficiently at temperatures below 0 degrees F.

  • Cold-weather coolants have a lower boiling point compared to traditional heat pump refrigerants, allowing them to collect more heat energy from cold air.
  • Multi-stage compressors work at lower speeds in moderate weather and transition to higher speeds in intense cold. This increases efficiency in changing weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more stable.
  • Variable-speed fans work with multi-stage compressors to supply heated air at the proper rate.
  • The improved coil design used in most modern heat pumps features grooved copper tubing with a greater surface area, allowing the unit to exchange heat more efficiently.
  • Flash injection opens a shortcut in the refrigerant loop to boost cold-weather heating performance. Efficiency falls off a bit in this mode, but it’s still much better than counting on a backup electric resistance heater.
  • More powerful motors use less electricity to increase energy savings.
  • Other engineering upgrades such as weaker ambient flow rates, increased compressor capacity and improved compression cycle configurations further reduce energy consumption in icy winter weather.

Traditional Heating Systems vs. Heat Pumps in Colder Climates

Heat pump efficiency is determined by its heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF), which conveys 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. Lots of cold-climate heat pumps can boast ratings of 10 HSPF or higher, enabling them to operate at up to 400% efficiency in moderate weather. In other words, they move four times more energy than they consume in the process.

Performance dips as the temperature drops, but various 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 likely to be people who heat with delivered fuels like 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 difference depends on how severe 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 transitioning 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 should be sized, designed and installed correctly to perform at their best. Factors such as home insulation levels and the location 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 U.S. government. The tax credit amount for qualifying installations is $300 through 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 checking out options for a new property, Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning can help you make a cost-effective decision. We’ll evalulate your home comfort needs, go over your budget and recommend the best equipment, which may be a cold-climate heat pump or another solution. To ask questions or schedule a heat pump installation estimate, please contact your local Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning office today.