Do Heat Pumps Work in Cold Climates? A Portland Tech Explains

The answer to this question really depends on what you mean by “cold.”

Yes, heat pumps are a great option for semi-cold climates (like parts of Oregon) but struggle in very cold climates where it regularly drops below freezing.

The reason that heat pumps struggle in very cold temperatures is because they don’t actually produce heat like furnaces do. Heat pumps transfer heat that’s already in the outdoor air into your home. And, when temperatures drop super low, there’s not a lot of heat in the air for a heat pump to pull into your home.

We know that only scratches the surface of the answer you’re looking for, so below, we’ll go into a little more detail about how heat pumps work and the kind of heating system we suggest for Portland homeowners: a dual fuel system.

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How heat pumps work

As we mentioned above, heat pumps warm your home by absorbing existing heat from the air outside and drawing that heat into your home.

Here’s a more detailed breakdown of how a heat pump works:

How a heat pump works
  1. At the outdoor unit, the heat pump absorbs heat from the outdoor air via a substance called refrigerant.
  2. The refrigerant then carries that heat inside to your indoor unit.
  3. At your indoor unit, a fan blows over the refrigerant, releasing the heat into the air.
  4. That air, which is now heated, is blown through your ducts into the different rooms of your home.
  5. When the refrigerant has dispersed all of the heat, it circulates back to the outdoor unit to pick up more heat and bring it to your indoor unit.

Because heat pumps transfer heat rather than produce heat (like furnaces do), they’re extremely efficient and cost less to operate on a monthly basis than furnaces do.

But, even though heat pumps are extremely efficient, they do struggle in cold temperatures, so we normally suggest a dual fuel system for Portland homeowners, which we will discuss next.

One Solution: Install a dual fuel system

In Portland, there are about 25 days a year where the temperature drops below freezing, so a heat pump is a great option for Portland homeowners for most of the winter. However, what about those few days when the temperature is really low?

That’s where a dual fuel system comes in.

A dual fuel system is a combination of a heat pump and a furnace. When the temperature outside is warm enough, you can rely on the heat pump to heat your home.

Then, when the temperature drops and the heat pump starts to struggle, your heating system will switch over to a furnace, so that you remain comfortable in your home regardless of the temperature outside.

A dual fuel system is really the best of both worlds because you reap the cost savings of having a heat pump for most of the winter, but also have guaranteed comfort for the days when it’s too cold for a heat pump to properly heat your home.

Ready to install a new heating system? Contact Portland’s most-trusted techs: Four Seasons

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You can count on each and every Four Seasons heating tech to honestly answer any questions you may have about a new heating system for your home. We understand that heating systems are a big investment, and we want to make sure you find the perfect solution for your home and budget.