Choosing The Best Cold Climate Heat Pump: What to Know

Heat pump technology has grown in leaps and bounds over the past few decades. Today, you can find an air-source heat pump that can keep an entire home warm in the cold temperatures the mid-Atlantic region may face.

However, it’s still common for homeowners in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, and Delaware to think heat pump systems aren’t cost-effective for winter use. Or that they can’t keep up with combustion heat, like a furnace that burns fossil fuels like oil or gas, to produce heat energy.

In this article, I’ll set the record straight. And, I’ll help you learn how to find the right system for your home’s unique needs.

I’ve been a mid-Atlantic product manager for the HVAC distributor Peirce Phelps for 14 years. In that time, I’ve stayed on top of the latest high-efficiency and clean energy HVAC heating and cooling systems. I also worked with dozens of HVAC companies servicing thousands of homes in our area.

You can download the product guide for more information on your options. Or, schedule a free consultation with a local certified expert.


Do Heat Pumps Work in Cold Climates?

Engineers have developed Cold Climate Heat Pumps (CCHP) that can operate efficiently in temperatures as low as -13°F. These are a significant step up from earlier models that couldn’t perform lower than 30 or 40 degrees F.

According to the US Department of Energy, CCHPs can reduce heating costs by up to 50% compared to traditional heating systems. Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (NEEP) has also recognized the benefits of CCHPs and has been working to promote their use in the Northeast.

Heat pumps installed as part of mini split systems are in cold climates due to their ability to efficiently warm individual rooms and handle water heating as well.

Features to Look In a Heat Pump For Cold Climate Use

A cold climate heat pump (CCHP) is a technology designed to operate in temperatures below freezing. If you live in an area with cold winters, choosing the right CCHP is critical for keeping your home warm and comfortable.

Here are some important features to consider when selecting the best CCHP for your needs.

High Coefficient of Performance (COP) at Lower Temperatures

The Coefficient of Performance (COP) is a measure of how efficiently the heat pump can convert energy into heat. For cold climate heat pumps, it is essential to choose a model with a high COP at low temperatures.

This is because as the outdoor temperature drops, the heat pump’s ability to extract heat from the air decreases. A higher COP means that the heat pump can still provide efficient heating even in extreme cold.

Inverter Technology For The Compressor

Inverter technology allows the compressor to adjust its speed based on the heating load required. This means that the heat pump can run at a lower capacity when it is not needed, reducing energy consumption and operating costs.

Enhanced vapor injection (EVI)

Enhanced Vapor Injection (EVI) technology improves at lower temperatures. EVI heat pumps use a secondary refrigerant to extract heat from the outside air, increasing the heat output even in extreme cold.

Defrost Mode

A defrost mode automatically removes the frost from the outdoor unit, allowing the CCHP to continue operating efficiently. When the outdoor temperature drops below freezing, frost can accumulate on the outdoor unit. This can reduce the heat pump’s efficiency and cause it to work harder, increasing energy consumption.

Variable speed fan

A variable speed fan allows the indoor unit to adjust its airflow based on the heating load required. As with Inverter technology, the system can run at a lower capacity when it is not needed, reducing energy consumption and operating costs.

Strong Insulation for Outdoor Unit

Choose a model with strong insulation for the outdoor unit. This protects the heat pump from damage and ensure it operates efficiently.

Energy Star Certified

Choosing an Energy Star certified CCHP ensures that you are selecting a model that meets high standards for energy efficiency, reducing your energy bills and environmental impact.

Integration With Hybrid Or Backup Heating

In some cases, a CCHP may not be able to provide enough heat for your home during extremely cold weather. In this case, choose a model that can be integrated with a backup heating system, such as a gas furnace or electric resistance heating.

Other Factors That Affect Heat Pump Performance


The installation of a cold climate heat pump is crucial to its performance. It is recommended to hire a professional HVAC installer who is certified and experienced in installing heat pumps.

A properly installed heat pump will not only operate more efficiently, but it will also last longer.

Load Calculation and Sizing

The load calculation and sizing of a cold climate heat pump is an important factor to consider. This process involves determining the heating and cooling needs of the home, and then selecting a heat pump that is appropriately sized to meet those needs.

Oversized or undersized heat pumps can result in reduced efficiency and higher energy costs. It is important to have a load calculation performed by a certified HVAC professional to ensure proper sizing.

The Department of Energy (DOE) also recommends paying attention to the coefficients of performance (COP) at the lowest outdoor temperatures. This will provide an accurate measure of the heat pump’s performance in colder climates.

Saving Money In Cold Weather With A Heat Pump

If you’re looking to save money on your energy bills, investing in a cold climate heat pump is a great option. Heat pumps are an efficient heating and cooling system that can be a smart investment in the long run. Here are some factors to consider when it comes to saving money with a heat pump:

Heat Transfer Process

Because heat pumps don’t generate heat, they can provide a more efficient source of heating than traditional systems that burn fuel to create heat. Instead, heat pumps transfer heat from one location to another.

During the winter, they extract heat from the outside air and transfers it indoors. During the summer, they remove heat from your home and move it outside.

High Energy Efficiency Rating

Look for a unit with a high Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF) and a high Coefficient of Performance (COP).

The HSPF measures the heat output of the pump over an entire season, while the COP measures the heat output to the energy input. The higher the HSPF and COP, the more efficient the heat pump will be.

Cold Climate Heat Pump FAQs

Can a heat pump freeze up in winter?

A heat pump can freeze up in winter if it gets too cold. Ice buildup on the unit can cause it to malfunction, and the defrost cycle may not work properly. To prevent this, regular maintenance and clearing any ice buildup is important.

Should you keep snow off a heat pump?

It is recommended to clear snow off a heat pump to prevent damage and ensure proper functioning. A buildup of snow can block airflow and damage the unit, leading to reduced efficiency and higher energy bills.

What temperature is too cold for a heat pump?

Most heat pumps can work efficiently down to temperatures of around 20-25°F. However, if the temperature drops below this, the unit may struggle to provide heat, and a backup heating system may be required. It’s best to check the manufacturer’s specifications for the recommended operating temperature range.

Are you ready to learn more? Get a free consultation to learn more about Philadelphia, PA’s trusted heat pump installation experts or anywhere in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware or Maryland.