Your Heat Pump and the Cold: What You Need to Know

How to Deal with Your Heat Pump in the Freezing Cold

These days, more of us are trying to reduce our carbon footprint and to minimize our impact on the environment, and this could be one reason why increasing numbers of households are switching to using heat pumps to warm their homes.

Heat pumps are an extremely cost-effective alternative to the conventional methods of heating, with the added bonus that they produce considerably less emissions than standard options. Even better, it is now possible to power a heat pump from a renewable energy source for an even more eco-friendly way of heating water and your home. Heat pumps serve a multi-functional purpose – they can either draw the heat from the air or the ground to warm the property, or, alternatively, be reversed to cool your home for an incredibly convenient solution. Heat pumps are also considered to be very efficient since no fuel is burned to create heat, it is merely transferred instead.

There is a downside, however, to having a heat pump installed in your home as your primary source of heating. These systems tend to function more effectively in a warmer climate, and when operated in cold temperatures, their efficiency is reduced. Therefore, if you live in an area that is cool all year round, or which has especially long and cold winters, is a heat pump really the right choice for you and your home?

Which Kind Of Heat Pump Works Well In Colder Weather?

It is a fact that the heat pumps work most effectively in a moderate or warm climate. The reason for this is because they are more easily able to extract surrounding heat and then convert it to energy more efficiently. Also, since a heat pump can be used either to heat or as an air conditioner, they are an especially good investment for anyone who lives in a warm climate since it will serve a multi-functional purpose.

However, if you make the wrong choice of heat pump for your environment, you could actually end up paying higher energy bills than you ever did before you had your heat pump installed!

Of course, this does not necessarily mean that if you live in a cold climate you should forget the idea of a heat pump altogether. There are some heat pumps which function more effectively in a cold climate than others, with those which feature exposed piping having to work harder to supply heat to the home when the outdoor temperatures are low. However, there geothermal heat pumps are a better choice for use in colder climates since they are buried below the ground where it is constantly and naturally warm. Since the piping is buried well below the surface, cold weather, frost and snow are unable to reach it, protecting the pump from freezing thanks to the ground’s natural warmth.

Can Households In Cold Climates Use An Air Source Heat Pump?

Households which opt for a geothermal heat pump will find that there will be no efficiency lost at any time of year, while if they choose an air-source heat pump which is exposed due to its outdoor installation, they will find that efficiency on the coldest days will be very poor. This is because the amount of warmth which is able to be transferred to your home via an air-source heat pump relies heavily on the ambient temperature outdoors, and if it drops too low, the heat output of the pump drops too.

As the outdoor temperature drops, the air source heat pump’s heating capacity also drops. Typically, an air source heat pump is sized so that it is capable of producing heat for around 80% to 90% of the household’s annual load, so if temperatures remain above freezing, the pump should be capable of filling the entire heating requirement of the property. However, if the outside temperatures are low, its efficiency will decline to such a point that it cannot function effectively.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that homes in regions where cold weather is sometimes experienced cannot install an air source heat pump, however a backup heating source is recommended to supply heat whenever the outdoor temperatures drop.

Can Air Source Heat Pumps Freeze?

There is no need to worry too much about air source heat pumps freezing. Yes, this is something that can happen if the weather is very cold, and yes, the pump and its piping will probably suffer somewhat as a result of this, however you should refrain from pouring anti-freeze into your piping if the pump is frozen since this will only exacerbate the problem.

If you air source heat pump freezes, it should automatically switch to its defrost setting, putting most of the energy towards thawing out the ice which has formed around and inside the piping. Should this not happen automatically, it’s important to read the manual to check if you can start up a defrosting process yourself. You should never try to rectify the problem yourself without contact a professional to get some advice about what to do, otherwise you could end up causing more harm than good.

What Types Of Supplementary Heating Systems Are There?

If you have an air source heat pump that cannot obtain sufficient warmth from the air to heat your home during cold weather, it is recommended that you invest in a supplementary heating system which can be used as and when required. The downside of this is that this will inevitably cause an increase in the home’s energy bills during the winter months, and since one of the primary reasons for installing a heat pump is to save energy and to use an eco-friendlier energy source, it may seem a little pointless if you have to use an alternative, high energy method instead whenever the temperature drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

There are two types of secondary heat forms – Gas furnaces (these are referred to as a dual fuel system or a hybrid heat system when used in conjunction with a heat pump), and electric resistance coil heaters.

Electric Resistance Coil Heaters

An electric resistance coil heater will be cheaper, and is often the default choice as a backup heat supply for a heat pump. Usually, they are installed in the property’s ductwork. An electric resistance heater has an efficiency rating of 100%, and this means that each 1 kilowatt hour of electricity is converted into 1 kilowatt hour of warmth delivered to the property. While this may sound impressive, it’s important to remember that a heat pump has an energy efficiency of around 300% – considerably higher. Therefore, if you live in an area where temperatures drop below freezing regularly, the electric resistance coils will be used more often, and your home energy bills will increase substantially.

Dual Fuel Systems (Gas Furnace)

Although a dual fuel gas furnace system will cost more initially than having an electric resistance coil heater installed, it will be a lot more energy efficient in the long term. This is because the electric resistance coils need around 3 times more source energy to produce heat when compared to a unit powered by gas. The upshot of this is that, although a dual system may have a purchase price around 25% higher than a regular A/C system, it will offer energy savings which will cover its purchase cost within around 5 to 6 years.

Other Alternatives

If you would rather not hook your property up to the electric or gas mains, or indeed any other kind of conventional heat system, it’s possible to buy gas-filled metal canisters which are able to be used in fake fireplaces and in other containers allowing you to warm your home. These are relatively inexpensive and work well as a backup source of heat for an air source heat pump.

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