Cold Climate Heat pumps

Are Cold Climate Heat Pumps as Comfortable as Gas?

According to B.C. Hydro, if you currently have a gas furnace, switching to an electric heat pump powered by clean electricity will lower your greenhouse gas emissions by around two tonnes per year. That’s roughly the equivalent of the greenhouse gas emissions from driving over 5, 000 kilometres. Who wouldn’t be on board with that? 95% of all electricity in B.C. comes from renewable sources, so it seems like a win for everyone. But do you end up with cold spots in your house if you make the switch? 

New cold climate heat pumps have variable speeds which maintain a steady temperature in your home – including all the surfaces. That means you won’t get that blast of hot air like you do from a furnace, which makes the surrounding air warm but leaves the floor or the countertop you’re working on freezing. Even newer furnaces don’t do this as well as a heat pump does. Think of it like the accelerator in your car: Single-speed heat pumps can go either 0 or 100 kph. Variable speed systems can run at all the speeds in between.

There is also the added benefit of better indoor air quality. Heat pumps provide dehumidification with options to add an enhanced filtration system to clean the air in your home – which means less moisture, and the option to lower dust, pollen and other allergens.

Will Switching to a Cold Climate Heat Pump Raise My Overall Utility Costs?

When properly installed, a heat pump uses half to a third as much energy as electric baseboards or a gas furnace. Today’s heat pumps are generally 250% to 400% efficient with each unit of electricity that goes into the system’s operation, producing 2.5 to four times the amount for heating. Compare this to natural gas furnaces, which range from about 50% efficiency to 98% for the most efficient models and produce just one unit of heat per unit of energy.

If you’ve switched from a gas furnace to a cold climate heat pump, expect that your monthly electricity bills will be higher than they used to be. But your gas heating bill will be lower.  Most homeowners in retrofit scenarios who upgrade find their combined utility bills are the same or lower than before the switch with the added bonus of cooling in the summer months.

We get questions constantly about heat pumps, from how efficient they really are to whether they can truly keep your home warm – even on the coldest winter day. So we’re here to dispel a few myths about heat pumps so you can make an informed choice that’s good for your family and for the planet. 

How Do Cold Climate Heat Pumps Work?

It may seem counterintuitive, but there’s heat in the air even when temperatures drop. Heat pumps work by extracting that heat from the outside air and transferring it indoors to heat your home. According to Natural Resources Canada, air at –18°C contains about 85 percent of the heat it contains at 21°C.

The biggest difference with today’s new cold-climate heat pumps is the variable-speed compressor. It’s especially beneficial in areas where there are big temperature swings and that’s because it enables the heat pump to work efficiently and effectively on the most frigid winter night or most oppressive summer afternoon.

This variable speed compressor technology wasn’t commercially available in heat pumps 10 years ago. Now that it is, it’s the fundamental change that has made heat pumps fantastic at sub-zero temperatures.

Another technology that has helped make low-temperature performance possible is flash (or vapour) injection. Cold-climate heat pumps can open up a shortcut in their refrigerant loops in low temps, boosting the cold-weather heating performance.

Like “regular” heat pumps, cold-climate heat pumps come in two varieties: ducted or ductless. If your home already has ductwork, you’ll likely go for a ducted heat pump. If your home doesn’t have ductwork—for instance, you currently heat with radiators, or you’re adding climate control to a garage, or an addition, you’ll go for a ductless system, called a mini-split. Both types are equally capable of efficient, effective cold-weather performance, and the difference is simply about how they deliver heat.

Some manufacturers produce better heat pumps than others. To find the best one for you, check out Natural Resources Canada and their Greener Homes Initiative. Besides information on manufacturers, you can also find out if the heat pump you choose is eligible for a grant or loan. If you pick the right equipment for your home and your climate, make any recommended weather-sealing upgrades, and hire a reputable contractor with experience installing heat pumps, you’re going to stay toasty all winter.

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