Can Heat Pumps be Used in Northern Climates

If you’re searching 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 a favorite in warm climates for a very long time. But considering they take heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom indicates that installing them in cold climates is not worth the effort. This may have you asking if a heat pump is the right 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 last decade, the acceptance of heat pump technology has surged in Northern European countries like Norway and Sweden. With standard January temperatures sitting around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these communities obviously need 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 Successful at Low Temperatures?

Heat pump technology was once insufficient for cooler climates. As the temperature dropped below freezing, these systems were unfortunately unable to collect 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 perform efficiently at temperatures colder than 0 degrees F.

  • Cold-weather refrigerants have a lower boiling point than traditional heat pump refrigerants, allowing them to draw more heat energy from cold air.
  • Multi-stage compressors work at lower speeds in mild weather and transition to higher speeds in intense cold. This increases efficiency in dynamic weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more stable.
  • Variable-speed fans have multi-stage compressors to deliver heated air at the proper rate.
  • The upgraded coil design used in most modern heat pumps includes grooved copper tubing with a greater surface area, enabling the unit to transfer 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 superior to depending on a backup electric resistance heater.
  • More powerful motors use less electricity to boost energy savings.
  • Other engineering upgrades like weaker 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 calculated by its heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF), which conveys the total heating output over 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. The majority of cold-climate heat pumps come with ratings of 10 HSPF or higher, helping them to operate at up to 400% efficiency in moderate 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 max out at about 98% efficiency.

In terms of actual savings, results may 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.

Nevertheless, heating with natural gas still is generally less expensive than using a heat pump. The cost difference will depend on how severe 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 Think About

If you’re thinking of 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 built for efficiency, but they should be sized, designed and installed precisely to perform at their peak. Factors like home insulation levels and the placement 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 until the end of 2022.
  • Solar panels: Heat pumps run on electricity, so they function well with solar panels. This combo can reduce your energy bills even further.

Start Saving with a Cold-Climate Heat Pump

Whether you’re replacing an existing HVAC system or exploring options for a new property, Sunbeam Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective choice. We’ll assess your home comfort needs, take a look at your budget and suggest 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 Sunbeam Service Experts office today.

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