Can Heat Pumps be Used in Northern Climates
If you’re shopping for a new HVAC system, odds are you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and enviromentally friendly features of heat pumps. Heat pumps have been a favorite in warm climates for decades. But since they use heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom recommends that installing them in cold climates is not sensible. This could have you questioning 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. In the last decade, the usage of heat pump technology has increased significantly in Northern European countries like Norway and Sweden. With frequent January temperatures hovering around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these areas obviously rely on effective 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 Successful at Low Temperatures?
Heat pump technology was previously too weak for cooler climates. As the temperature dipped below freezing, these systems were just unable to collect enough heat to effectively warm a house. But this is no longer accurate. Here are the advanced features found in cold-climate heat pumps that enable them to perform efficiently at temperatures lower than 0 degrees F.
- Cold-weather refrigerants have a lower boiling point compared to traditional heat pump refrigerants, enabling them to collect more heat energy from cold air.
- Multi-stage compressors function at lower speeds in mild weather and transition to higher speeds in intense cold. This improves efficiency in changing weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more balanced.
- Variable-speed fans work with multi-stage compressors to produce heated air at the proper rate.
- The improved coil design found in most modern heat pumps includes grooved copper tubing with a greater surface area, helping the unit to exchange heat more efficiently.
- Flash injection creates a shortcut in the refrigerant loop to improve cold-weather heating performance. Efficiency falls off a bit in this mode, but it’s still superior to relying on a backup electric resistance heater.
- Better motors consume less electricity to boost energy savings.
- Other engineering optimizations such as decreased ambient flow rates, an increase in compressor capacity and improved compression cycle configurations further decrease energy consumption in frigid winter weather.
Traditional Heating Systems vs. Heat Pumps in Colder Climates
Heat pump efficiency is determined 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.
Starting 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 common fuels including 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 gap will depend on how harsh the winter is, the utility rates 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, remember these additional factors:
- Design and installation: Cold-weather heat pumps are built for efficiency, but they must be sized, designed and installed precisely to perform at their best. 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 U.S. government. The tax credit amount for qualifying installations is $300 until the end of 2022.
- Solar panels: Heat pumps use electricity, so they pair 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 existing HVAC system or exploring options for a new property, Becht/Givens 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 may be a cold-climate heat pump or another kind of system. To ask questions or schedule a heat pump installation estimate, please contact your local Becht/Givens Service Experts office today.