What Do I Need to Know About Heat Pumps for Cold Climates?

Explore in-depth information about heat pumps with videos, graphics, reports, and more.

How Do Heat Pumps Work in Cold Climates?

Heat pumps are all-in-one heating and air conditioning systems that are specifically designed to work efficiently in cold climates like New York. Heat pumps are environmentally friendly, extremely efficient, and affordable to operate — all without the use of fossil fuels.

There are two types of heat pumps that are capable of keeping New York homes comfortable year-round: cold-climate air source heat pumps and geothermal (ground source) heat pumps. Both heat pump types can provide up to 100% of a building’s heating and cooling needs.

How they work:

  • Heat pumps draw thermal energy from the environment and move it indoors to provide heat or move it outdoors to provide air conditioning for a home. Heat pumps are also capable of providing water heating as well.
  • Cold-climate air source heat pumps extract heat from the air outside and distribute it inside the home. During warmer months, this process is reversed to provide cooling by pulling heat out of the interior space.
  • Geothermal heat pumps, also referred to as ground source heat pumps, extract heat from the ground during cold weather via an underground pipe system, which is then distributed throughout the home. During warmer months, the process is reversed to provide cooling. Geothermal heat pumps are the most efficient, longest-lasting type of heat pump, though they are also the most expensive to install.

These videos offer an animated explanation of how heat pumps work.

Heat Pump Installation Best Practices: A Visual Guide

The graphic below shows the basic approach to installing a residential heat pump system that is optimized for comfort and efficiency:

Heat Pump Installation Best Practices: A Visual Guide (Infographic)
  1. Work with a NYSERDA participating contractor to conduct a no-cost home energy assessment.
  2. Ask your contractor to address any air sealing and insulation issues that were identified during your energy assessment prior to designing your heat pump system.
  3. Explore your financing options. In addition to any loans your contractor may offer, there are a variety of low-interest loans available from New York State to help you pay for heat pumps and any air sealing and insulation work your home may need.
  4. Research available State or Federal tax incentives for your heat pump purchase and factor them into your budgeting. Be sure to file for any tax incentives you may be eligible for to receive refunds.
  5. After air sealing and insulating, your NYS Clean Heat contractor will then design a heat pump system according to the size of your home, its indoor space and layout, your aesthetic preferences, and any financial considerations.
  6. Next, your contractor will install your heat pump and educate you on how to operate your new system.
  7. Now that your heat pump is installed, find the temperature that feels most comfortable, then “set it and forget it.”
  8. Clean any indoor air filters when the indicator light comes on or if they become visibly dirty.
  9. Schedule regular maintenance visits with your contractor. Consult the manufacturer specs and/or warranty for the recommended intervals (most are every 1-2 years).

Heat pumps work differently than boilers and furnaces. Explore NYSERDA’s tips sheets and sign up to receive periodic emails on maintaining and maximizing your heat pump system after installation.

Ready to Keep Learning?

The reports and resources in our Resource Library are available to help you become a heat pump expert.