Are Heat Pumps Effective in Cold Climates?

Heat pump technology has improved drastically over the last 15 years. While older models were used mostly for cooling, today’s Cold Climate models can provide comfortable, cost-effective heating for an entire home even in the middle of winter.

However, it’s important to choose the right model for home and water heating that world year-round. While most heat pumps installed in the mid-Atlantic region can handle the load, there are plenty on the market that cost less because they aren’t designed mostly as air conditioning with some supplemental heating.

In this article, I’ll help you understand what to look for when choosing a heat pump for year-round comfort. I’ve been a product manager at Peirce Phelps, a national HVAC distributor, for well over a decade.

In that time, I’ve concentrated on high-efficiency systems and worked with HVAC contractors who have installed thousands of mini splits and heat pumps across New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

You can download our product guide to get more specifics. Or, set up a free consultation with a certified installer in your area. They can answer more specific questions about your town and your home’s specific needs. 


What To Look For When Choosing a Cold Climate Heat Pump

Cold Climate Heat Pumps (CCHPs) are designed to operate in temperatures as low as -15°F. While it rarely, if ever, gets this cold in the mid-Atlantic region, these are still good considerations if you’re planning to use a heat pump year-round.

A CCHP brings peace of mind that your system won’t fail when the temperatures reach our record lows here And, there’s less efficiency loss because the system will rarely, if ever, work at capacity.

High Coefficient of Performance (COP) at Lower Temperatures

The Coefficient of Performance (COP) is a measure of a heat pump’s efficiency by comparing the amount of energy they consume versus the energy they put out. Most heat pumps have a COP higher than one, meaning they produce more energy than they use.

Look for a heat pump with a HSPF (Heating Seasonal Performance Factor) of 8 or higher. This will ensure that the heat pump can operate efficiently in sub-zero temperatures.

Inverter-driven compressor technology

Heat pumps with inverter-driven compressor technology can adjust the compressor speed to meet the heating or cooling demands of your home.

This technology is especially useful in colder climates because it allows the heat pump to run at a lower speed, which reduces energy consumption and improves efficiency.

Enhanced vapor injection (EVI) technology

Enhanced vapor injection (EVI) technology is another feature to look for when choosing a cold climate heat pump. This technology allows the heat pump to maintain a high COP at lower temperatures, making it more efficient in cold climates.

Efficient defrosting mechanisms

Defrosting is an essential function of a heat pump in cold climates. Look for a heat pump with an efficient defrosting mechanism that minimizes energy consumption and reduces the time it takes to defrost the unit.

Variable speed fans for optimal performance

Variable speed fans can adjust their speed to meet the heating or cooling demands of your home. This technology reduces energy consumption and improves the efficiency of the heat pump.

Robust and well-insulated outdoor unit

The outdoor unit of a heat pump is exposed to the elements, making it vulnerable to damage in colder climates. A well-insulated outdoor unit that can withstand extreme weather conditions.

Reliable performance in sub-zero temperatures

When choosing a cold climate heat pump, it’s essential to look for a unit that can perform reliably in sub-zero temperatures. Look for a heat pump with a Minimum Operating Temperature (MOT) of -15°F or lower.

Energy Star certification for energy efficiency

Energy Star certified heat pumps are more efficient than standard models, which can help you save money on your energy bills. Just about all heat pumps have Energy Star certifications for energy efficiency.

Compatibility with backup or hybrid systems

In extremely cold weather, a heat pump may struggle to heat a home efficiently. You can also create a hybrid or backup heating system where your system can switch to gas or oil heat.

The backup would kick in if the heat pump broke down or suddenly couldn’t handle a very cold temperature. Your heat pump model would need to able to accommodate this integration. 

Other Considerations When Choosing Your Heat Pump

In addition to the basics, there are other important considerations to keep in mind when choosing a cold climate heat pump.


Choosing the right installer is just as important as choosing the right heat pump. A qualified and experienced installer can help ensure that your heat pump is properly installed and will operate efficiently for years to come. Look for an installer who is licensed and insured, and who has a good reputation in your area.

Load Calculation and Sizing

Getting the right size heat pump is crucial for optimal performance. A load calculation is necessary to determine the correct size for your home. An oversized heat pump will cycle on and off frequently, leading to increased wear and tear, while an undersized unit won’t be able to keep up with demand.

How Heat Pumps Can Help You Save Money in Cold Climates

We’ve talked a bit about how heat pumps can help save money, especially in cold climates. Here are some more details:

Heat Transfer Vs. Combustion

Heat pumps are considered more efficient than combustion heating systems since they do not need to create heat, but instead, they transfer it.

How Heat Pumps Can Help You Save Money in Cold Climates

We’ve talked a bit about ho

Heat transfer is the process of moving heat energy from one place to another. In contrast, combustion creates heat by burning fossil fuels like oil or gas.

As a result, heat pumps consume fewer kWh (kilowatt-hour) of electricity than combustion heating systems, resulting in lower energy bills. They also provide more clean energy than combustion.

Energy Efficiency

Air-source heat pumps are generally more efficient than comparable furnaces. This means you get the same home comfort or better while paying less on your bills.


What temperature is too cold for a heat pump?

Many heat pumps  become less efficient as the temperature drops. around 25-30 degrees Fahrenheit, although Cold Climate heat pump systems can operate in temperatures as low as -15°F.

Can a heat pump freeze up in winter?

Heat pumps can freeze up in winter, especially when temperatures drop below freezing. However, most heat pumps have a built-in defrost cycle that will automatically kick in to prevent freezing.

Should you keep snow off a heat pump?

It’s important to keep snow and other debris off your heat pump to ensure proper operation. A buildup of snow or debris can block airflow and cause your heat pump to work harder than necessary, which can lead to reduced efficiency and increased energy costs.

Are you ready to learn more? Get a free consultation to learn more about heat pump installation professionals in Cherry Hill, NJ or anywhere in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware or Maryland.