Heat Pumps and Cold Weather: Is it Going to Work?

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home winter

If you live in an area with a cold climate and want to use a heat pump with much less electricity and greater savings, consider reading this article.

We will discuss heat pumps for cold weather, options, benefits, and whether they are worth the investment.

If you are in a hurry and want to know if heat pumps can work in cold climates, the answer is yes, they can. But only if properly chosen and installed.

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Heat pumps and cold weather: Things to consider

Can heat pumps really work in cold weather and save

As opposed to traditional heating systems like electric and gas furnaces, heat pumps do not generate heat but move it from one place to another. This makes them one of the most efficient ways to heat and cool a home.

According to the DOE, homeowners can save between $450 and $1000 per year when switching from electric or oil systems to heat pumps.

Heat pumps are designed to "steal" heat from the outside air, even during cold weather, and move it into your home. They use a compressor to increase the temperature of the outgoing air. 

In mild climates, most heat pumps are designed to take in one unit of energy and convert it to 3-4 units of energy, delivering the heat with the efficiency of 3-4 COP. But that depends on how much heat is available to take. The COP factor depends on the temperature, so the lower the temperature, the lower the COP.

So, as long as the COP is above one (or 100%), the heat pump is still able to save you money. Don't forget that electric resistance heaters have a maximum efficiency of 99%.

Conventional heat pumps have limited use in cold climates

Several types of heat pumps are available to homeowners, and the air-source type is the most popular.

They use electricity to move heat into the house or out, whether you need heating or cooling. They can also be paired with other systems to use renewable energy, reducing costs and carbon footprint.

Air-source heat pumps are typically designed for mild climates where they can maximize their efficiency. When compared to electric resistance heaters, the efficiency (COP) of heat pumps is 3 or more times higher.

According to the manufacturers, heat pumps become less efficient with the temperature drop, where they perform poorly if it goes below 30-40 F.

So if they cannot deliver enough heat for comfortable home heating, they would require a secondary heat source, which will make the whole system expensive. That is why conventional heat pumps have limited use in colder regions.

Geothermal heat pumps for cold weather

Geothermal or ground-source heat pumps are similar to the air-source type, but instead of using the outside air, they extract the heat from the underground or groundwater.

In winter, underground/groundwater temperatures are higher than the temperature of the outside air, making the geothermal system more efficient.

The major problems with these systems are their higher purchase and installation costs and often lower performance than expected. So, it might take many years before it pays off.

Cold-climate heat pumps are the right solution

Cold climate heat pumpCold climate heat pump

Since conventional heat pumps are not performing well in colder weather, homeowners have options to buy "cold-climate" heat pumps which are designed to perform well even at temperatures below 0 F.

What makes them different and more efficient are the high-performing components, such as the variable speed compressor, improved coil design, variable speed fans, and high-efficiency motors.

Many models also have built-in heating elements, which turn on only when it is extremely cold outside.

There are 2 types you can choose from; ducted (central systems) and ductless (mini-split). They both have higher efficiency than boilers, furnaces, and baseboard heaters, helping users to save more.

Homeowners and professionals can use this Cold Climate Air Source Heat Pump (ccASHP) Product List, from the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships - NEEP website, where they can find models designed to heat efficiently in cold climates.

The best models are designed to heat and cool your home, including domestic water and pool heating. They can work perfectly with other heating systems, such as air handlers, radiant floor systems, radiators, etc.

Choosing the right model will prevent oversizing and undersizing the system.

Yes, heat pumps for cold weather are worth it

Heat pumps generally save energy in mild and warm climates, but during the winter, energy savings drop - significantly.

That is why cold climate heat pumps are the best solution for homeowners who live in colder regions. Recent improvements in the device's design and performance, followed by cost-effective operation, make them an attractive option for home heating.

In addition to the above, high tax credits are also available, which helps offsetting high purchase and installation costs.

According to Manitoba Hydro, cold climate heat pumps are cheaper to run than electric systems, resulting in an annual heating cost reduction of 33%, or up to 70%, when compared to propane and oil systems. Natural gas heating systems are still cheaper to use.

Use the NEEP link, where you can see all the manufacturers and models with the specs showing their ability to perform well in colder temperatures.

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