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Driven by groundbreaking innovation and advanced applications of technology, modern heat pumps have progressed by leaps and bounds in recent years. There’s one lingering problem, however, and that’s public perception. Just look at how myths about heat pumps’ subpar capabilities in cold-weather conditions persist despite all evidence to the contrary.

Think cold-weather heat pumps aren’t capable of keeping entire homes warm through the dark of winter, even in latitudes north of the Arctic Circle? Well, you might still be in the Ice Age, but heat pumps certainly aren’t.

It’s time to set the record straight once and for all. Below, we’ll break down three lingering myths about the limitations of this energy-efficient technology and show you how heat pumps overcome the challenges of cold-weather climates in order to save homeowners’ wallets, reduce carbon footprints, and build greater energy resilience in homes.

Myth #1: Heat Pumps Can’t Effectively Heat Homes in Cold Weather Because of How Their Underlying Technology Works.

Heat pumps of all kinds, including the cold-weather variety, work by absorbing heat from air outside of your home, then transferring it inside. Naturally, that job gets a bit tougher when it’s freezing outside — true enough. But does that mean that homeowners in New England or even the Great Plains should pursue fossil-fuel heating sources as the most viable alternative, despite their rising costs and health, safety, and environmental impacts?

That’s the way the story sometimes gets told — and it may even have been true at one point, say, when early heat pump technology was first introduced to the market. But that was 150 years ago.

Today, heat pumps are entirely different beasts, with highly evolved mechanisms for coping with and overcoming cold temperatures. So it doesn’t matter if freezing winds happen to be whipping across Lake Michigan and grounding flights at O’Hare. Homeowners in nearby Minnesota who’ve made the switch to heat pumps will continue to sit confidently, cozily, and comfortably at home, and can count on seeing average reductions in home energy consumption of 39% to 65%. You can consider this first myth, which was pretty much bunk to begin with, effectively debunked.

Related Post: The Homeowners’ Definitive Guide to Heat Pumps

Myth #2: Heat Pumps Are Not Energy Efficient in Cold Climates.

This is a big one, but like Myth #1, it’s also just not true. For starters, most of today’s standard heat pumps can operate with 100% efficiency when outside temperatures drop well below freezing (below 32°F), and cold climate heat pumps perform at 100%-200% efficiency even down to -31°F (which is really, really cold).

Digging in a bit deeper, the efficiency of a heat pump is measured by the device’s coefficient of performance (COP), or the ratio of useful heat output to energy consumed. Research shows that even standard heat pumps — not heat pumps specifically designed for cold-weather applications — operate with an average COP of 2.74 when the outside temperature is between 41°F and 14°F, which is sufficient to meet most household heating requirements with much greater efficiency than fossil heating and electric resistance heat alternatives. Studies focusing on heat pumps designed to withstand extremely cold temperatures have demonstrated similar findings, with these heat pumps continuing to operate with COPs of 2.0 up to -13​​°F, and 1.8 at -31°F.

This suggests that heat pumps designed for cold environments should be more than capable of meeting heating loads during average winter temperatures, without experiencing disruptions even when those temperatures hit short-term weather extremes.

Related Post: Thinking About Switching to a Heat Pump? Ask Your Contractor These Questions First.

Myth #3: Cold Climate Heat Pumps Are Prohibitively Expensive for Most Homeowners.

It is true that most heat pumps designed especially for cold weather often come with slightly higher sticker prices than heat pumps in general, so there may be a hard kernel of truth behind this one.

But focusing on upfront costs overlooks how quickly the cost-savings can accrue once your cold climate heat pump is on site, installed, and operational.

Exact numbers vary, of course, depending on a host of factors, ranging from building size to local climate, but the fundamental math here doesn’t. As we saw in the study above, for every unit of energy consumed, a cold-climate heat pump operating at temperatures below zero will produce two units of energy in the form of heat for your home. A high-efficiency furnace will produce slightly less than one. Depending on the price of electricity versus oil or natural gas in your area, that can add up to significantly greater mid- and long-term value, regardless of the size of your upfront cost.

Oh, and did we mention that, thanks to the provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022, your initial out-of-pocket costs right now look to be lower than ever? It’s true. Check out our heat pump rebates and tax credits guide to get all the details there.

Related Post: Green Door Guide to Heat Pump Rebates and Tax Credits

Warming Up to Cold-Weather Heat Pumps? Next Steps

Heat pumps are, bar-none, the single most-efficient heating technology on the market globally. As a result, regardless of whether your local climate is hot like Phoenix or finger-numbing like Fargo, this is an investment that makes a lot of sense from a home performance perspective, especially as oil prices continue to hover around historical highs, and the runaway rates of inflation seen earlier this year have so far improved only marginally.

But as with many purchases, heat pumps are not a one-size-fits-all solution. Heat pumps are extremely efficient, but their efficiency dramatically decreases if your home is not properly insulated and air sealed. Further, if you reside in certain climate zones, you may still want to consider a backup furnace to kick in when truly arctic temperatures rear their ugly head. Thankfully, you don’t have to decipher the best path forward alone. Qualified contractors, like the ones selected for the elite Pearl Network, can guide you through making the right choice. Just log in to Green Door, the free app from Pearl Certification, to search for a Pearl Network Contractor in your area. 

While you’re there, you can learn more about cold weather heat pumps, identify rebate and tax programs in your local area, and generate a customized Pearl Home Investment PlanTM. It’s the best way to not only capture the value of heat pumps and other high-performing assets, but also identify other value-adding improvements, find rebates and tax credits, track maintenance tasks, and more.

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