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Cold climate air source heat pumps

Cold climate air source heat pumps are energy efficient and can reduce your carbon footprint if they are replacing a fossil fuel source heating system. They transfer heat contained in the outside air to heat your home.

Cold climate air source heat pumps are slightly more efficient and can operate in colder temperatures than conventional air source heat pumps. Conventional heat pumps typically lose significant heating capacity at colder temperatures. It is generally not recommended to operate them when temperatures drop below −10°C, while cold climate heat pumps can still provide heat to −25°C or −30°C, depending on the manufacturer’s specifications.

There are 2 main types of cold climate air source heat pumps.

Centrally ducted

A centrally ducted heat pump looks like a central air conditioner. It has an outdoor unit and a coil located inside the home’s ductwork.

During summer the heat pump operates like a central air conditioner. The circulating fan moves air over the indoor coil. Refrigerant in the coil picks up heat from the indoor air, and refrigerant is pumped to the outdoor coil (condenser unit). The outdoor unit rejects any heat from the home into the outside air while cooling down the inside of the home.

During winter the heat pump reverses the direction of refrigerant flow, and the outdoor unit picks up heat from the outdoor air and transfers it to the indoor coil in the ductwork. Air that passes over the coil picks up the heat and distributes it inside of the home.

Mini-split (ductless)

A mini-split heat pump operates like the centrally ducted heat pump but it does not use ductwork. Most mini-split or ductless systems have an outdoor unit and 1 or more indoor units (heads). The indoor units have a built-in fan that moves air over the coil to pick up or release heat from the coil.

A system with multiple-indoor units is usually required to heat and cool an entire home. Mini-split heat pump systems are best suited to homes without ductwork, such as homes with a hot water boiler, steam boiler, or electric baseboard heaters. Mini-split systems are also ideal in homes with an open concept floor plan, as these homes require less indoor units.

Maintenance

We recommend:

  • inspecting the air filter every 3 months to see if it requires replacement;
  • routine checks to ensure supply and return air vents are clear;
  • routine inspection and cleaning of outdoor coil to ensure it is free of leaves, seeds, dust, and lint;
  • an annual system check by a qualified service professional.

A licensed refrigeration mechanic can inform you about additional operation and maintenance details of your system.

Operating temperatures

Air source heat pumps have a minimum outdoor operating temperature and their heat production is significantly reduced as the outside air temperature drops. Air source heat pumps normally require an auxiliary heating source to maintain indoor heating temperatures in the coldest weather. The auxiliary heat source for cold climate units are typically electric coils, but some units can work with gas furnaces or boilers.

Most air source systems shut off at 1 of 3 temperatures, which can be set by your contractor during installation:

  • Thermal balance point
    At this temperature the heat pump does not have enough capacity to heat the home on its own.
  • Economic balance point
    The temperature when 1 fuel becomes more economic than the other. At colder temperatures it may be more cost effective to use supplemental fuel (such as natural gas) than electricity.
  • Low temperature cut-off
    The heat pump can safely operate to this minimum operating temperature, or the efficiency is equal to or less than the electric auxiliary heating system.

Controls

We recommend having a thermostat control that operates both the air source heat pump and the auxiliary heating system. Installing 1 control will help prevent the heat pump and alternate heating system from competing with each other. Using separate controls could also allow the auxiliary heating system to operate while heat pump is cooling.

Benefits

  • Energy efficient
    Cold climate air source heat pumps are higher in efficiency when compared to other systems such as electric furnaces, boilers, and baseboard heaters.
  • Environmentally friendly
    Air source heat pumps move heat from the outdoor air and add it to the heat generated by the electrically-driven compressor to heat your home. This reduces your home’s energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and harmful effects on the environment.
  • Versatility
    Air source heat pumps heat or cool as required. Homes with a cold climate air source heat pump don’t need a separate air conditioning system.

Is it right for my home?

Keep these factors in mind when considering an air source cold climate heat pump for your home.

Cost and savings

A cold climate air source heat pump can reduce your annual heating costs by 33% when compared to an electric heating system. Savings of 44 to 70% can be achieved if switching from propane or fuel oil furnaces or boilers (depending on the seasonal efficiency of those systems). However, costs will generally be higher than natural gas heating systems. Read our annual space heating cost comparison charts (PDF, 176 KB).

The cost of installing an air source heat pump depends on the type of system, existing heating equipment and ductwork in your home. Some modifications to the ductwork or electrical services may be required to support your new heat pump installation. An air source heat pump system is more expensive to install than a conventional heating and air conditioning system, but your annual heating costs will be lower than electric, propane or fuel oil heating. Financing is available to help with the cost of installation through the Home Energy Efficiency Loan.

Local climate

When buying a heat pump, the Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF) should help you compare 1 unit’s efficiency to another during mild winter weather. The higher the HSPF number, the better the efficiency. Note: The manufacturer’s HSPF is usually limited to a specific region with much milder winter temperatures and does not represent its performance in Manitoba weather.

When temperatures drop below −25°C, most cold climate air source heat pumps are not more efficient than electric heating.

Installation requirements

The location of the outdoor unit depends on the air flow, aesthetic, and noise considerations, as well as snow blockage. If the outdoor unit is not on a wall-mount, the unit should be placed in an open area on a platform to allow for defrost meltwater to drain and minimize snow drift coverage. Avoid placing the unit close to walkways or other areas as melted water might create a slip or fall hazard. Follow the manufacturer’s installation recommendations.

See Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnership’s Guide to Installing Air Source Heat Pumps in Cold Climates.

Hiring a contractor

Your unit must be installed by a refrigeration mechanic licensed in Manitoba. Your installer should perform a heat loss calculation to ensure the system is the correct size for your home. Follow our tips for hiring a contractor to ensure you feel confident in finding a supplier that best fits your project’s needs.

Learn about the Canada Greener Homes Grant

A new or replacement cold climate air source heat pump system may qualify for Natural Resources Canada Greener Homes Grant.

For more information about cold climate air source heat pumps, email us.