Do Heat Pumps Really Work in Cold Climates?

Yes. There are heat pumps available today that are specifically designed to work in cold climates and are capable of meeting up to 100% of a New York home’s heating needs.

Today’s Heat Pumps Are Better Than Ever

There are two types of heat pumps specifically designed to work in cold weather that will provide better comfort and efficiency in your home: geothermal (ground source) heat pumps and cold-climate air source heat pumps.

Geothermal (ground source) heat pump systems extract heat from the ground during cold weather via an underground pipe system. The ground remains a constant temperature 10 feet below the earth’s surface, regardless of how cold the air outside is, and that heat is distributed throughout your home. During the summer, the process is reversed to provide cooling to your home.

Modern cold-climate air source heat pump engineering has evolved to include features that were not available a decade ago, such as variable-speed, inverter-driven compressor technology and improved defrost-cycle controls. As a result, today’s cold-climate air source heat pumps work in very cold weather and are capable of meeting up to 100% of a New York home’s heating needs. While it is true that in years past, traditional air source heat pumps were less effective when temperatures dropped below freezing, a modern cold-climate heat pump installed by a participating NYS Clean Heat contractor does not have these challenges. In fact, research shows that cold-climate heat pumps can provide comfortable domestic heating when it is as cold as -15°F outside — and that’s air temperature, not wind chill!

It’s important to note that there are several best practices that homeowners and contractors should follow to ensure successful heat pump operation during winter weather:

  • Conduct a NYSERDA no-cost home energy assessment and address any potential air sealing and insulation issues before sizing and installing a heat pump system.
  • Work with a NYS Clean Heat participating contractor to ensure that the system installed is properly sized and located to meet your heating needs.
  • Make sure any outdoor compressor units are mounted at least 18 inches above the ground on a gabled side of the house to keep them above any snow accumulation.

Cold-Climate Air Source Heat Pump Products

It’s important to be aware that there are some air source heat pump models available for purchase that are not suited to low outdoor temperatures. Be sure to ask your installer specifically if the system they are recommending is cold-climate rated.

To be eligible for rebates through the NYS Clean Heat program, cold-climate air source heat pumps must meet certain specifications. All NYS Clean Heat air source heat pumps must be Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (NEEP) qualified to ensure they will work as needed in cold climates.

  • NEEP is an independent organization that is dedicated to providing unbiased information on energy efficiency best practices for the Northeast region of the United States and has developed a product specification for cold-climate air source heat pumps that keep bitter cold Northeast winters in mind. Only systems that are deemed to work properly in the extreme cold get NEEP’s listing, so sourcing equipment that meets NEEP specifications is considered a best practice for the Northeast region and can provide additional peace of mind that the equipment purchased will work as intended.

When researching air source heat pumps for your New York home, always check to ensure the product you are considering is on NEEP’s cold-climate heat pump product list, or ask your installer for a confirmation that the unit meets the NEEP cold-climate specifications.

Heat Pump Performance Studies

NYSERDA and its partners have conducted studies on heat pump performance at sites across the State. A summary of the most recent study findings on performance, satisfaction, energy consumption, and more are available and will be updated as additional studies are available.

Shown here is one summary on performance, see additional summaries or read the full reports on NYSERDA’s Clean Heating & Cooling research page.

Performance Finding:

Cold-climate air source heat pumps and geothermal (ground source) heat pumps, when designed and sized to meet the building’s heating load, provide adequate heating, cooling, and comfort in New York State within expected efficiency ranges.