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Will a Heat Pump Work in Cold Weather?

The short answer is yes, a heat pump* will work in cold weather.

But heat pumps only work efficiently if they have a backup heat source, like a gas furnace or electrical resistance coils.

To explain what we mean, first we’ll need to look at how a heat pump works and why it needs backup heat.

*For this article, we’ll focus on “air source” heat pumps since they’re the most popular.

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How heat pumps work in cold weather

An air source heat pump is like a heat sponge: it absorbs heat from the outdoor air and transfers it inside your home.

Because they use outside air, air source heat pumps work especially well in moderate temperatures. But when temperatures drop below 32° F, they lose efficiency, meaning they have to rely on a secondary source of heat to properly heat your home.

Secondary forms of heat come in two forms:

  1. Electric resistance coil heaters (the default)
  2. Gas furnaces (when combined with a heat pump this is called “hybrid heat” or “dual fuel system”)

Let’s take a look at both of these backup heat sources in more detail:

Backup heat sources in heat pumps

Electric resistance coil heaters

Electric resistance coil heaters are the cheaper, default backup heat options for heat pumps. They’re generally installed into the ductwork of your home. Electric resistance heaters have a 100% efficiency rating, which means every 1 kilowatt-hour of electricity turns into 1 kilowatt-hour of heat delivered to your home.

That sounds good, but it’s actually not that great compared to a heat pump, which has about 300% energy efficiency.

So if temperatures stay below freezing for a long time, the heat pump will used the electric resistance coils more and, you’ll notice a huge cost increase on your energy bill.

Gas furnace (dual fuel system)

The other backup heat option is to have a gas furnace supplement your heat pump.

A dual fuel system is more expensive upfront than the default electric resistance coil heaters, but it’s more energy efficient in the long run. It’s more efficient because electric coils require about 3 times as much source energy to deliver heat compared to a gas-powered unit.

Dual systems are generally 20-25% more expensive to purchase and install than a standard A/C system. However, the energy savings it offers can actually pay for its cost within about 5-6 years.

Live in the Twin Cities? Interested in a heat pump? Get a free estimate

Contact MSP for a free heat pump installation estimate today. Our team of trained technicians will provide the best recommendations to you based on your home’s heating needs.

We’ve been serving families in the Twin Cities area since 1918.