How Do Heat Pumps Work In Winter:Efficiency,Benefit,Setup

Photo of author

By Debarghya Roy

A heat pump is a versatile piece of equipment that can help you stay warm and cozy during the cold winter months. It operates using a closed-loop system to absorb warmth from outside air, filter it, and circulate it inside the home for heating purposes.

In this blog post, we’ll explore how heat pumps work in winter and provide tips on improving their efficiency and performance as well as considerations to maintain safety while they are operating.

Key Takeaways

  • Heat pumps work differently in winter than they do in summer by using a compressor and reversing valve to transfer colder outdoor air into warm indoor air.
  • Heat pumps can be more efficient with proper insulation, weather-responsive controls, zoning and temperature control.
  • Cold climate heat pumps offer reliable and efficient heating while ground source heat pumps use geothermal energy from underground temperatures.
  • Inverter technology helps maintain constant temperatures while Hyper-Heating INVERTER® (H2i®) can reduce household energy consumption up to 40%.

Working  Of Heat Pump In Winter

How Do Heat Pumps Work In Winter

A heat pump works like an air conditioner in reverse. In the winter, it draws in ambient outdoor heat through its condenser coils which run along the exterior of your home and compresses that energy to higher temperatures.

The collected thermal energy is then passed on to an evaporator coil located inside your home, releasing a warm flow of air into the living area and creating a cozy indoor atmosphere.

The use of adverse temperature difference allows heat pumps to be extremely efficient as they lack any combustion-based systems found in other heating methods. 

Heat pumps are also much quieter than conventional heating solutions due to their smaller fan sizes and motors working at lower speeds; thus, enabling you to enjoy peace and quiet during colder months when they operate.

Cold climate models offer additional capabilities like defrosting and insulated piping to tackle these subzero conditions more effectively compared to other types of ACs or traditional furnaces.

Defrost Cycle Technology In Heat Pump

The defrost cycle is an integral part of a heat pump’s operation and helps the heat pump maintain its efficiency during winter months. 

During cold weather, the outdoor compressor and condenser coils freeze over due to snow or ice-covered branches that can block airflow necessary for effective anti-icing.

The defrost cycle works by reversing the direction of refrigerant flow in order to warm up the outside coil, which then melts any accumulated ice that has built up on it.

Heat pumps use this process as well as other methods such as auxiliary heating or ground source technology to keep their systems running reliably while using minimal energy in colder climates.

Ensuring proper functioning of your heat pump’s defrost cycle is important; if neglected, it can cause significant reduction in efficiency and worse yet cause damage to components.

Auxiliary Heating Of Heat Pump

When a heat pump is needed in temperatures well below freezing, auxiliary heating may be necessary. 

This type of supplementary heating can provide extra warmth for the system both during the initial start-up and when operating in extreme cold weather conditions.

Electric resistance heating systems use electrical currents which pass through a resistor coil to generate warm air that’s released into the home. 

Overcoming Challenges Of Heat Pumps In Sub-Zero Temperatures

To combat sub-zero temperatures, cold climate heat pumps, ground source heat pumps and inverter technology can be used to ensure efficient operation of a heat pump in winter.

Cold Climate Heat Pumps

Cold climate heat pumps offer a reliable and efficient way to keep homes warm in winter. 

With specially designed refrigerant loops, these systems can run even when the outdoor temperatures significantly drop below zero degrees Fahrenheit.

The cold-weather performance of these pumps is enhanced through special shortcut valves that open up when the temperature falls too low for conventional operation, allowing them to use ambient air to pump more heat into a home’s living area.

Ground Source Heat Pumps

Ground source heat pumps (GSHPs) provide an effective and efficient way to tap into geothermal energy during the winter months. 

GSHPs take advantage of steady temperatures in the ground to transfer heat from outside air or to draw cold refrigerant out of a dwelling, depending on whether heating or cooling is desired.

Because underground temperatures remain constant throughout the year regardless of surface air conditions.

This allows them to more effectively extract geothermal energy from deep beneath soils through active loops such as vertical, horizontal, and pond/lake loop system architectures making them ideal for colder regions where there is less heat in their local atmosphere available for use with traditional HVAC systems.

Inverter Technology Used In Heat Pumps

In heat pumps, inverter technology helps to maintain a more constant temperature in cold weather, allowing the compressor and fan output to adjust automatically in response to external temperatures.

While running in such cold weather requires additional energy consumption compared with traditional heating solutions, modern inverter technology in heat pumps helps optimize energy efficiency while still providing increased overall comfort relative to gas or electric furnaces.

Variable-capacity heat pumps with Hyper-Heating INVERTER® (H2i®) technology use extra capacity at lower outdoor air temperatures, making them even more efficient for cold climates.

Improving Heat Pump Efficiency In Winter

To improve the performance of a heat pump during winter months, it is essential to properly insulate the building and incorporate weather-responsive controls into the system, such as zoning or temperature regulation.

Proper Insulation Of Heat Pumps

Installing the right kind of insulation is essential for keeping heat inside your home and preserving optimal energy efficiency in winter. When it comes to maximizing heat pump performance during cold months, proper insulation can make all the difference.

Different types of installation materials are better suited for different climates and geographical areas, so it’s important to do your research before settling on a type of insulation to install in your home.

For example, foam or blown-in insulation may be more appropriate for colder climate zones than fiberglass batt insulations. 

No matter what type you choose, installing properly sized R-Values (or resistance values) will ensure that air particles throughout the house remain at consistent temperatures while keeping heating costs low.

In addition to boosting a heat pump’s efficiency in winter conditions, good insulation can also provide cost savings by reducing energy consumption year round and giving incentives towards tax credits.

From an environmental standpoint too, investing in proper insulation results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions as less energy is used overall.

Weather-Responsive Controls Of Heat Pumps

Weather-responsive controls are essential for optimizing the efficiency of heat pumps in Winter. 

Cold weather can have a negative impact on conventional air source and ground source heat pumps as they will not be able to generate enough power due to reduced temperatures.

This leaves professionals with two options: 

  • Buy more powerful units 
  • Use weather-responsive control devices which adjust the operation of the existing unit according to changing temperature levels outside.

There are several types of weather-responsive controls that are usually combined into one system such as differential thermostats, synthetic ice balance points, outdoor reset controls and enthalpy sensors.

Differential thermostats Of Heat Pumps

It measures external temperatures over a period of minutes or hours to see when it is cold enough for full heating capacity, initiating auxiliary mode during colder times.

Synthetic Ice Of Heat Pumps

It measures how much frost accumulates from condensers using an optical sensor after the cooling cycle.

Outdoor Reset Of Heat Pumps

It adjusts compressor speed automatically according to external temperature variations.

Enthalpy sensors Of Heat Pumps

It calculates the exact humidity levels inside buildings for better internal comfort and improved efficiency.

Zoning And Temperature Control Of Heat Pumps

For heat pumps to be efficient and cost-effective, good temperature control is essential. 

Regular maintenance of a unit’s settings can lead to an improved performance, especially during winter months when temperatures drop.

Smart thermostats and programmable controls are one way in which zoning and temperature balance can be effectively managed. 

By distributing heating needs across separate zones, more accurate target temperatures can be achieved while avoiding oversized conditioning units that waste energy.

Since this creates ideal conditions for a system’s operation it significantly increases efficiency and cost savings without sacrificing comfort or convenience. 

Zoning provides an even distribution of heat throughout the home accompanied by smaller indoor units with fewer running parts at lower pressures  reducing noise levels as well as energy costs substantially up to 30%.

Winter Maintenance Checklist For Heat Pumps

Regular maintenance of heat pumps during the cold winter months is essential in order to ensure optimal performance and prevent any costly repairs or replacements.

Air Filters

Maintaining air filters of heat pumps is one of the most important maintenance tasks for optimal performance during winter months. 

An air filter works by trapping dust, debris and other airborne contaminants from circulating through your heating and cooling system.

By blocking particles from entering the interior components of the heat pump, they can reduce strain on the system while allowing more efficient airflow. 

Dirty or clogged filters will limit airflow, resulting in a decrease in efficiency of your heat pump system.

It may also put stress on other parts like blower motors which could lead to expensive repairs. 

According to manufacturer’s guidelines it is recommended that air filters be changed once a year or as specified by them.

This practice should be included when preparing for winter months every time you use your heat pump.

Noise Levels

Heat pumps rely on different components such as fans, compressors, and motors to operate effectively. 

As a result, these systems are usually associated with some level of noise – which may range from humming and buzzing to bleeping and gurgling depending on its internal components.

Excessive noise indicates that something is wrong with the heat pump’s system and typically occurs when an older compressor is used or when frozen wet coils block circulation airflow over fan blades outside.

If you encounter any type of loud noises coming from your heat pump during wintertime operation then it’s important to take note of either enlisting professional help for repair or installing a muffler known as a “compressor sound blanket” to reduce the audible indoors.

Regular Service

Regular service and maintenance of a heat pump are essential during winter months for the efficient functioning of the system. 

Properly maintaining your heat pump can help keep it running in peak condition, saving you money on costly repairs and replacements.

A preventative maintenance checkup with a local dealer at least once per year is recommended to ensure all components are up-to-date and working properly. 

This also needs to be done before using your heat pump after long periods of non-use or disuse as well as before cold months when heat pumps are used most heavily.

Some key components that need regular attention include: 

  • Checking and cleaning air filters 
  • Inspecting coils for signs of ice or snow buildup 
  • Ensuring proper wire connections between parts
  • Verifying optimal thermostat settings
  • Making sure all power is off
  • Monitoring noise levels emanating from the unit while in use etc. 

Ignoring regular maintenance may lead to various issues such as 

  • Reduced efficiency due to dirt accumulation inside components. 
  • Poor performance due to wiring defects.
  • Frozen condensing coil blocks because there was no defrost cycle scheduled .

Top Tips For Maximizing Heat Pump Efficiency In Winter

Set the Temperature and Fluctuate Less 

Heat pumps operate most efficiently when they are able to maintain a steady temperature. This is why it’s best to set the thermostat and forget it during the winter months, instead of noticing every change in outdoor temperature.

Always Turn Off The Heat Pump When Not In Use 

To maximize heat pump efficiency in winter, make sure you turn your system off when not in use. An ideal temperature range for heat pumps during fall and winter months is between 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Increase the Fan Speed 

Increasing the fan speed boosts a heat pump’s heating capacity, but it produces more noise and air movement. It will also reduce humidity levels, leading to lower comfort levels in colder weather.

Install a Programmable Thermostat 

Installing a programmable thermostat gives you better control over when to activate your heat pump during cold temperatures. That way, you can ensure that your system’s running at peak efficiency without having to turn it on or off manually all day long.

Clear Debris Away From Unit 

A clean unit is essential for smooth functioning of any appliance or system, including heat pumps in winter months. 

Make sure you clear any debris around your heat pump so it runs with maximum efficiency and safety measures are not compromised due to blocked airflow or intake grilles.

Keep Vents Open And Unobstructed

Be sure that vents are open and unobstructed so that air can circulate evenly throughout the indoor space being heated by the heat pump. 

Cluttered areas around vents should be cleared away as well as blocking furniture pieces that limit air circulation within living spaces can cause inefficiency issues with hot and cold spots within a room or home space where power ventilation is not adequate.n.

Heat Pumps Vs Electric Resistance Heaters

CriteriaHeat PumpsElectric Resistance Heaters
Energy EfficiencyEnergy efficiency can be checked by professionals or personnels.They are categorized as resistance heating because they use electrical energy to produce a form of thermal energy that produces infrared radiation and convection currents.
EfficiencyActs as a heat exchangerElectric Resistance Heaters rely on electricity to generate heat, but lack the efficiency of heat pumps. 
DependencyIt depends on the external cost.This type of heater is 100% dependent on electricity since it doesn’t take advantage of external sources like the air or ground temperature. 

Installation Of Heating Systems In Winter: Heat Pump Vs Furnace 

The following graph gives an idea about the upfront costs of installation of different heating systems during winter.

Heat Pump Vs Oil Furnaces

Oil furnaces offer a reliable and efficient way of generating heat during the winter months. 

They are deemed preferable to heat pumps in areas where colder winters prevail, as they can generate their own warm air that is independent of the temperature outdoors.

Design-wise, oil furnaces use fuel to produce forced hot air through blowers or fans which pushes it through a series of ducts into various rooms. 

Despite their high initial cost and the need for regular maintenance due to wear and tear such as emissions cleaning and filter changes.

Oil furnaces typically deliver impressive levels of performance compared with certain alternatives such as gas furnaces or electric resistance heating like baseboards offering an average efficiency rating ranging from 80% up to 90%.

This combined with their effective insulation technologies makes them suitable home heating solutions even when temperatures drop substantially below freezing.

Heat Pumps Vs Gas Furnaces

Here is a detailed comparison of heat pumps and gas furnaces.

Criteria Heat PumpsGas Furnaces
DescriptionHeat pumps are the traditional HVAC system that is found commonly to generate hot air.Gas furnaces are a popular winter heating solution in areas prone to harsh, cold temperatures.
Energy ProductionThey use the technology of heat exchangers and refrigerants to release energy to the household.They use natural gas as fuel to heat air and distribute it inside homes through ducts before it is finally released into the home through vents.
EfficiencyThey are an efficient energy source with a good SEER rate.Gas furnaces offer a greater ability to heat your home during harsher, colder winter conditions.
Location ConsiderationsIt is generally suitable for all climates.It is better suited in northern locations compared to other types of heating solutions like electric systems or even Heat Pumps (HVAC).
Environmental ImpactThey try to reduce the carbon emissions into the environment.They also emit harmful greenhouse gasses which can contribute toward global warming, an important factor considering its environmental impact.

The Benefits Of Using Heat Pumps For Winter Heating

Heat pumps offer a variety of benefits, including energy efficiency, cost savings, and environmental friendliness, making them an attractive option for heating your home during the winter months.

Energy Efficiency Of Heat Pumps

Heat pumps offer an energy-efficient alternative to traditional heating systems like furnaces and boilers in all climates. 

In fact, heat pumps can be up to three times more efficient than electric manual resistance furnaces and up to five times more efficient than oil or gas-powered furnaces during operation.

Additionally, they can reduce energy use by up 25%-50% when compared with a standard system over the course of an entire year due their milder operating temperature requirements on cold days combined with reduced need for extensive defrosting cycles on frosty nights.

Cost Savings Of Heat Pumps

Heat pumps offer valuable cost savings to households over other heating solutions, particularly in terms of energy bills and maintenance expenses. 

Installing a standard air source heat pump can save households up to $800 per season when running in cooling mode, with the potential for additional savings during winter months.

The potential cost savings associated with investing in a modern heat pump system should not be overlooked either depending on whether your home currently utilizes gas or electric fuel sources for heating, you may find yourself reducing overall utility costs by as much 10%-30%.

Ground source heat pumps may also be suitable for certain homes or provinces where winter temperatures are 25°C or lower and they provide surprisingly low operating costs despite their relatively high installation price tag as much as 50% less than electric resistance equipment or oil furnaces.

Environmental Benefits Of Heat Pumps

Heat pumps offer a number of environmental benefits by lowering greenhouse gas emissions and reducing energy consumption. 

Heat pump systems are up to three times more efficient than other heating options, such as furnaces and electric baseboards, allowing for much lower energy costs.

Furthermore, because heat pumps transfer existing warm air from one area to another rather than creating new heat with combustible materials, they produce notably lower levels of carbon dioxide compared to other fuel sources.

For example, according to findings from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), an oil furnace produces 2–3 times more carbon dioxide per unit of delivered heat than an electric ground source or water source heat pump system operating in cold climates.

Heat Pump Safety Considerations For Winter Operation

To ensure the safety of your heat pump system in winter, always install a carbon monoxide detector and have it regularly inspected before heavy use.

Carbon Monoxide Detector

Having a carbon monoxide detector is essential for any home with a heat pump operating in winter. 

  • If there is improper venting or maintenance of the system, the confined indoor air could become hazardous due to exposure to this deadly gas. 
  • Without a working CO detector, homeowners may not be aware they are breathing toxic levels of CO until it’s too late.
  • To ensure safety and peace of mind when using heat pumps in cold weather conditions.
  • Homeowners should install an industry-recommended CO detector at every level of their home near bedrooms and fuel burning appliances such as furnaces or fireplaces.

Proper Installation Of Heat Pumps

  • It is essential that heat pumps are professionally installed to ensure both efficiency and safety during winter operations. 
  • Inaccurate sizing of the heating system for the home can result in inadequate performance, as well as decreased energy savings.
  • To ensure proper installation of a heat pump system for winter use.
  • Hire a qualified technician with relevant expertise. 
  • Inspect that all labels match those specified by the manufacturer. 
  • Check the outdoors unit has clearance between the ground and the bottom so it can pull in outdoor air through side vents.
  • Select appropriate size calculations based on measurements of walls, floors ceilings, doors and windows (taking into account also local climate). 

Regular Inspection Of Heat Pumps

Regular inspection of ducts, filters, blower, and indoor coil for dirt and obstructions is important to safeguard the functioning and performance of heat pumps during winter months.

According to Consumer Reports, heat pumps lose significant power when temperatures drop below zero-degrees Fahrenheit

However creating proper airflow by diagnosing or sealing possible duct leakage offers a degree of protection against this issue.

Having a thorough heating system inspection by a local Trane dealer ensures optimal airflow which allows the home’s HVAC unit to enjoy its full energy efficiency rating throughout winter time use.


How does a heat pump work in the winter?

In the winter, typically a heat pump will move heat from outside air and transfer it inside.

The heat is absorbed by an evaporator coil and released through a condenser coil to warm up your home.

Additionally, many modern models are equipped with auxiliary heating systems that activate when the temperature dips too low for regular operation, essentially providing back-up heating on very cold days.

What’s different about how a heat pump works during winter months?

During colder weather conditions, the efficiency of most conventional air source or ductless mini split models decreases as temperatures drop below freezing (32°F). 

Heat pumps require a specific balance point temperature where they are able to absorb more energy than they use and therefore create net energy savings; if outdoor temperatures dip lower than this ideal balance point window their efficiency drops significantly.


Heat pumps have become increasingly popular due to their relative efficiency over electricity-powered electric resistance baseboard/wall units or gas fired furnaces and boilers often delivering comparable performance even in cooler climates at significant savings on energy bills.

Heat Pump