Are heat pumps suitable for communities with cold climates?

Heat pumps from the 1980s and 1990s have a bad reputation for leaving home and business owners shivering when it dropped below freezing. New cold climate air source heat pumps can provide efficient heating throughout a New England winter while still providing air conditioning in the summer.

Once upon a time, air source heat pumps were both expensive and ineffective throughout a cold New England winter. Heat pumps were suitable for homes in the south with mild winters but had difficulty keeping homeowners comfortable when temperatures dropped below freezing. Like other technologies, heat pumps have come a long way since the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Manufacturers have developed new cold climate air source heat pumps that provide efficient heating and cooling for homes and businesses in the northeast. These cold climate air source heat pumps are able to function at 100% efficiency at 5°F while still remaining functional down to -15° and below.

For reference, we analyzed historical winter weather data for the entire state of Massachusetts from 2005-2006 to 2014-2015. Residents of eastern Massachusetts can expect fewer than 4 days on average every winter where the temperature drops below 5°F. In eastern Massachusetts, the temperature never dropped below -10°F once in the last 10 years. The western and central parts of the state are typically colder than the eastern part of the state, but even so, western and central Massachusetts residents can expect less than one day every year where the temperature drops below -10°F. [Insert image from slides]

Even on those cold evenings, air source heat pumps can still be twice as efficient as baseboard electric resistance heating. On the rare chance that temperatures drop below -15° for an extended period of time, your old boiler or furnace can fire up to provide backup heat until your heat pump kicks back in.

Are cold climate air source heat pumps reliable enough for 20 years of New England winters? Homeowners in Vermont, Maine, and all over the northeast seem to think so. Nearly 300,000 heat pumps were sold around the country in June 2014 alone; Pioneer Oil, based in Worcester, MA, reports that 90% of its business that summer was in installing heat pumps.

But what does that mean for hot humid summers? Even though these heat pumps are specialized for cold climates, they still provide excellent air conditioning performance in the summer as well – at twice the efficiency of typical central and window air conditioning systems!

With reliable winter performance, generous state rebates, and a wide range experienced installers across the state, many home and business owners around the northeast can’t afford to not invest in clean heating technologies.