Can Heat Pumps be Used in Northern Climates

If you’re shopping for a new HVAC system, chances are you’ve heard about the efficient, cost-effective and sustainable features of heat pumps. Heat pumps have been popular 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 practical. This might have you wondering 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 past decade, the usage of heat pump technology has surged in Northern European countries such as Norway and Sweden. With ordinary January temperatures hovering around 20 degrees F, homeowners in these communities obviously rely on powerful heating options. Those who have installed cold-climate heat pumps have found that they meet their needs perfectly.

What Makes Cold-Climate Heat Pumps More Effective at Low Temperatures?

Heat pump technology was previously too weak for cold climates. As the temperature dipped 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 special features found in cold-climate heat pumps that enable them to work efficiently at temperatures below 0 degrees F.

  • Cold-weather coolants have a lower boiling point versus 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 intense cold. This boosts 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 upgraded coil design found in most modern heat pumps features grooved copper tubing with a bigger 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 counting on a backup electric resistance heater.
  • Improved motors consume less electricity to boost energy savings.
  • Other engineering optimizations like weaker ambient flow rates, greater compressor capacity and improved compression cycle configurations further decrease 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 over the heating season divided by the energy consumed for that period. The higher the HSPF, the better the efficiency.

Starting in 2023, the nationwide 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, helping them to operate at up to 400% efficiency in moderate weather. In other words, they move four times more energy than they consume 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 usually people who heat with combustible fuels like 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 using a heat pump. The cost variation depends on how harsh the winter is, the utility prices in your area, whether your system 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, remember these additional factors:

  • Design and installation: Cold-weather heat pumps are built for efficiency, but they need to be sized, designed and installed precisely to perform at their best. Factors such as home insulation levels and the placement 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 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 lower your energy bills even further.

Start Saving with a Cold-Climate Heat Pump

Whether you’re replacing an existing HVAC system or comparing options for a new property, Winnipeg Supply Service Experts can help you make a cost-effective decision. We’ll assess your home comfort needs, go over your budget and recommend the best equipment, which could 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 Winnipeg Supply Service Experts office today.

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