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 sought after in warm climates for decades. But because they take heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside, conventional wisdom indicates 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 more in-depth, rest assured that modern, cold-weather heat pumps are appropriate for northern climates. Over the last decade, the acceptance of heat pump technology has soared in Northern European countries like Norway and Sweden. With average January temperatures hovering around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these communities obviously need 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 used to be unsuitable for temperate climates. As the temperature fell below freezing, these systems were simply unable to extract enough heat to efficiently warm a house. But this is no longer accurate. Here are the innovative features designed for cold-climate heat pumps that enable them to work efficiently at temperatures lower than 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 work at lower speeds in temperate weather and increase to higher speeds in intense cold. This boosts 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 upgraded coil design placed in most modern heat pumps is designed with grooved copper tubing with a larger surface area, allowing the unit to transfer heat more efficiently.
  • Flash injection opens a shortcut in the refrigerant loop to improve cold-weather heating performance. Efficiency drops a bit in this mode, but it’s still better than relying on a backup electric resistance heater.
  • More powerful motors consume less electricity to boost energy savings.
  • Other engineering optimizations such as reduced ambient flow rates, an increase in compressor capacity and enhanced compression cycle configurations further lower 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 demonstrates the total heating output throughout the heating season divided by the energy consumed for 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 offer 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 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 can vary. The biggest savers are likely to be people who heat with combustible fuels including propane and oil, as well as those who use electric furnaces or electric baseboard heaters.

However, heating with natural gas still is usually less expensive than running a heat pump. The cost gap depends on how harsh the winter is, the utility rates in your area, whether your equipment was installed correctly and whether you use solar panels to offset electricity costs.

Other Factors to Think About

If you’re looking at 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 designed for efficiency, but they must be sized, designed and installed precisely to perform at their peak. 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 federal government. The tax credit amount for qualifying installations is $300 up to the end of 2022.
  • Solar panels: Heat pumps are powered by electricity, so they pair well with solar panels. This combination can lower your energy bills even further.

Start Saving with a Cold-Climate Heat Pump

Whether you’re replacing an existing HVAC system or checking out options for a new property, Bryant Heating & Cooling Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective decision. We’ll evalulate your home comfort needs, take a look at your budget and point you toward the best equipment, which might be a cold-climate heat pump or another solution. To ask questions or schedule a heat pump installation estimate, please contact your local Bryant Heating & Cooling Service Experts office today.

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