Heat pumps have long been relegated to moderate climates that see mild temperatures and little snow. Thanks to recent advancements, however, homeowners in the Northern United States can now replace less efficient furnaces with heat pumps. If you live in a northern state and are having a heat pump installed, though, make sure you talk with your heating installation technician about protecting it from the snow.
Heat Pumps Extract Heat from Outside Air
Rather than producing heat by burning a substance, like oil and gas furnaces do, heat pumps extract heat from outside air and bring the warmth inside. As air flows through a heat pump, it uses a thermal exchange to lower the temperature of the air that goes through it. The heat it collects is then transported inside to warm up a home.
There are two key elements that determine how well a heat pump will work: the thermal exchange and the air flow.
Heat Pumps Work at Cold Temperatures
New technology has greatly improved the thermal exchange, which is why they can now be used in cold climates. Compared to older heat pumps, today's best models feature the following:
- better gases and refrigerants
- higher quality electronic systems
- insulated tubes (older heat pumps had uninsulated ducts)
- variable speed motors (older heat pumps had single-speed motors)
The Boston Globe reports that they're effective in temperatures as low as minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit because of these advancements. This figure doesn't include windchill, making heat pumps suitable for all but the very coldest parts of the United States.
Heat Pumps Need Air to Work
Homeowners in the snowy Northern United States face a unique challenge when installing a heat pump, however. Heat pumps need air to work, which is why airflow is so important to them. If snow builds up, it will inhibit the airflow and a heat pump's effectiveness.
You could address this issue by brushing snow off of your heat pump each day. If snow melts and refreezes, though, you'll have a hard time chipping off the ice without damaging your unit. Additionally, few homeowners want to dig out a heat pump after a snowstorm -- especially when the driveway also needs to be shoveled.
The best way to prevent snow from blocking a heat pump's air flow is to plan the furnace's installation carefully so that snow won't build up on it. By working with your heating installation technician, you should be able to situate your heat pump so that snow isn't a major issue for it. To do this, you might discuss the following ideas with your installation technician:
- putting the heat pump in the lee of your home, so it's sheltered by your house
- building a one-sided shelter for your heat pump that blocks most snow but lets air flow around the unit
- placing your heat pump on an elevated concrete platform so snow banks don't reach it
Some of these ideas might increase the cost of your installation, but the additional money will be well invested. Each winter, you'll be glad you discussed ways to reduce how often you'll need to dig the heat pump out.
As homeowners in the Northern United States learn more about heat pumps, they'll become more common in snowy states. If you're considering having one of these efficient furnaces installed, just make sure to think about how snow will accumulate around it. Look at where you might put it with your heating installation technician, and discuss ways you can reduce snow's impact on its performance. Investing now in ways to prevent snow from building up around it will make your winters easier for many years to come.