Can Heat Pumps be Used in Northern Climates

If you’re looking for a new home comfort system, chances are you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and eco-friendly features of heat pumps. Heat pumps have been a favorite in warm climates for many years. But considering 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 wondering if a heat pump is a better 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 acceptable for northern climates. Over the past decade, the adoption of heat pump technology has surged in Northern European countries like Norway and Sweden. With frequent January temperatures sitting around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these areas obviously need powerful 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 Efficient at Low Temperatures?

Heat pump technology used to be too weak for cooler climates. As the temperature dropped below freezing, these systems were unfortunately unable to collect 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 enable them to perform efficiently at temperatures below 0 degrees F.

  • Cold-weather coolants have a lower boiling point versus traditional heat pump refrigerants, enabling them to collect more heat energy from cold air.
  • Multi-stage compressors work at lower speeds in moderate weather and increase to higher speeds in intense cold. This increases efficiency in varying weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more consistent.
  • Variable-speed fans use multi-stage compressors to deliver heated air at the proper rate.
  • The enhanced coil design found in most modern heat pumps includes 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 superior to counting on a backup electric resistance heater.
  • More powerful motors use less electricity to increase energy savings.
  • Other engineering optimizations such as reduced ambient flow rates, greater compressor capacity and enhanced compression cycle configurations further reduce 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 over the heating season divided by the energy consumed during that period. The higher the HSPF, the better the efficiency.

Beginning in 2023, the nationwide minimum efficiency rating for heat pumps will be 8.8 HSPF. The majority of cold-climate heat pumps can boast ratings of 10 HSPF or higher, enabling 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 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 may vary. The biggest savers are usually 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 generally less expensive than running a heat pump. The cost difference is based on how severe the winter is, the utility rates in your area, whether your system was installed correctly and whether you installed solar panels to offset electricity costs.

Other Factors to Think About

If you’re thinking of switching from a traditional furnace, boiler or electric heater to a cold-climate heat pump, remember these other factors:

  • Design and installation: Cold-weather heat pumps are built for efficiency, but they need to be sized, designed and installed properly to perform at their best. Factors such as 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 United States government. The tax credit amount for qualifying installations is $300 until the end of 2022.
  • Solar panels: Heat pumps use electricity, so they function 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, Rob's Albertan Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective choice. We’ll evalulate your home comfort needs, go over your budget and suggest the best equipment, which may be a cold-climate heat pump or similar product. To ask questions or schedule a heat pump installation estimate, please contact your local Rob's Albertan Service Experts office today.

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