Can Heat Pumps be Used in Northern Climates

If you’re looking for a new comfort system, it’s likely that you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and eco-friendly features of heat pumps. Heat pumps have been popular in warm climates for decades. But considering they take 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 more in-depth, rest assured that modern, cold-weather heat pumps are acceptable for northern climates. Over the last decade, the usage 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 regions obviously rely on efficient 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 once insufficient for temperate climates. As the temperature fell below freezing, these systems were just unable to extract enough heat to effectively warm a house. But this is no longer accurate. Here are the innovative features used in cold-climate heat pumps that permit them to perform efficiently at temperatures below 0 degrees F.

  • Cold-weather refrigerants have a lower boiling point compared to traditional heat pump refrigerants, helping them to collect more heat energy from cold air.
  • Multi-stage compressors function at lower speeds in moderate weather and transition to higher speeds in severe cold. This increases efficiency in changing weather conditions and keeps the indoor temperature more balanced.
  • Variable-speed fans use multi-stage compressors to produce heated air at the proper rate.
  • The enhanced coil design found in most modern heat pumps is designed with grooved copper tubing with a greater surface area, helping 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 depending on a backup electric resistance heater.
  • More powerful motors use less electricity to increase energy savings.
  • Other engineering modifications such as decreased ambient flow rates, greater compressor capacity and improved compression cycle configurations further lower 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 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 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, enabling them to operate at up to 400% efficiency in temperate weather. In other words, they move four times more energy than they use in the process.

Performance drops 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 can vary. The biggest savers are probably people who heat with combustible fuels including propane and oil, as well as those who use electric furnaces or electric baseboard heaters.

That being said, heating with natural gas still is generally less expensive than running a heat pump. The cost difference will depend on how severe the winter is, the utility prices in your area, whether your equipment was installed correctly and whether you installed solar panels to offset electricity costs.

Other Factors to Take into Consideration

If you’re considering transitioning from a traditional furnace, boiler or electric heater to a cold-climate heat pump, don't forget 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 peak. Factors like home insulation levels and the location of the outdoor unit can also reduce 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 through the end of 2022.
  • Solar panels: Heat pumps run on 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 an old HVAC system or comparing options for a new property, Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning can help you make a cost-effective decision. We’ll assess your home comfort needs, take a look at your budget and point you toward 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 Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning office today.