Can Heat Pumps be Used in Northern Climates

If you’re searching for a new home comfort system, it’s likely that you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and sustainable features of heat pumps. These systems have been popular in warm climates for many years. But since they use heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom suggests that installing them in cold climates is not practical. 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 more in-depth, rest assured that modern, cold-weather heat pumps are acceptable for northern climates. Over the past decade, the usage of heat pump technology has soared in Northern European countries like Norway and Sweden. With average January temperatures sitting 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 meet their needs perfectly.

What Makes Cold-Climate Heat Pumps Successful at Low Temperatures?

Heat pump technology was once unsuitable for cold climates. As the temperature dipped below freezing, these systems were just unable to extract enough heat to efficiently warm a house. But this is no longer the case. Here are the innovative features designed for cold-climate heat pumps that permit them to perform efficiently at temperatures below 0 degrees F.

  • Cold-weather coolants have a lower boiling point versus traditional heat pump refrigerants, helping them to draw more heat energy from cold air.
  • Multi-stage compressors function at lower speeds in moderate 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 work with multi-stage compressors to deliver heated air at the proper rate.
  • The enhanced coil design placed in most modern heat pumps features grooved copper tubing with a bigger surface area, helping the unit to transfer heat more efficiently.
  • Flash injection opens a shortcut in the refrigerant loop to improve cold-weather heating performance. Efficiency falls off a bit in this mode, but it’s still better than counting on a backup electric resistance heater.
  • Improved motors consume less electricity to increase energy savings.
  • Other engineering modifications like reduced ambient flow rates, increased compressor capacity and enhanced compression cycle configurations further reduce energy consumption in freezing 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 during 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. Many cold-climate heat pumps offer ratings of 10 HSPF or higher, helping 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 drops 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 top out at about 98% efficiency.

In terms of actual savings, results can vary. The biggest savers are probably people who heat with delivered fuels like propane and oil, as well as those who use electric furnaces or electric baseboard heaters.

However, heating with natural gas still is generally less expensive than using a heat pump. The cost variation will depend on how harsh the winter is, the utility rates in your area, whether your heat pump was installed correctly and whether you installed solar panels to offset electricity costs.

Other Factors to Take into Consideration

If you’re considering switching 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 engineered for efficiency, but they must be sized, designed and installed correctly to perform at their peak. 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 up to the end of 2022.
  • Solar panels: Heat pumps use electricity, so they work 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 old HVAC system or comparing options for a new property, Atmostemp Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective decision. We’ll evalulate your home comfort needs, go over your budget and suggest the best equipment, which might be a cold-climate heat pump or similar product. To ask questions or schedule a heat pump installation estimate, please contact your local Atmostemp Service Experts office today.

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