Heat Pump Guides

Cold Climate Heat Pumps:

Do They Work in Colorado?

Heat pumps have come a long way since their introduction to the market in the 1950s. Traditionally, heat pumps were not right for cold climates (like CO) due to their inability to work at low tempratures. However, advancements in heat pump technology supported by the Federal Government over the recent years have made heat pump systems much more effective in colder climates.

As the leading experts in heat pump tech in Denver, we will tell you that the short answer to the question “Do Heat Pumps actually work in cold climates?” is Yes.

New heat pump models which are referred to as “cold climate heat pumps” can produce all or the majority of the heating demand of your home. With improvements in coil design, compressor technology, and refrigerant systems, modern heat pumps can now provide reliable heating even in extreme climates like ours. Learn more about how these systems work below. 

cold climate heat pump colorado

What is a Cold Climate Heat Pump?

A cold climate heat pump is an HVAC device that extracts heat from the outdoor air and transfers it indoors to provide heating. In the summer, the process is reversed to provide cooling. Over time, the technology in cold climate heat pumps has matured, resulting in units with wide heating ranges that can effectively provide full heating capabilities to homes in extreme climate zones, such as Colorado.

While there are various definitions for what constitutes a cold climate heat pump, in the HVAC industry, units that can produce heat at low temperatures (“low-heat”) are often referred to as cold climate heat pumps.

Cold climate heat pump systems have been tested in locations as cold as Northern Alaska, demonstrating their effectiveness in extremely harsh conditions.

At UniColorado, we have been installing heat pumps in Colorado for over 10 years. During this time, we have witnessed the incremental improvements that cold climate heat pumps have gained. As of 2024, we are confident that a properly designed cold climate heat pump system can cover the vast majority of a home’s heating load, and in certain instances, even the entire heating load.

Mitsubishi cold climate heat pump mounted in the snow
Heat pump outdoor unit in the snow
Q: How does a cold climate heat pump differ from a traditional heating system?
A: A cold climate heat pump uses electricity to move heat from one place to another, while a traditional heating system burns fuel to generate heat. Heat pumps are more efficient because they use less energy to produce the same amount of heat.
Q: What's the difference between cold climate and a regular heat pump?
A: Typically, cold climate units can produce heat in a wider range of ambient temperatures and have more features compared to a regular heat pump system.

Advancements in Cold Climate Heat Pump Technology

Cold climate heat pumps were previously not considered a viable option for homes in colder climates like Colorado until recently. However, with advancements in technology, these systems are becoming more popular among homeowners looking for an alternative to traditional heating methods.

Features such as inverter-driven compressors, refrigerant cycling systems, defrosting cycles, self learning variable capacity and ECM motors are the main contributors to how a cold climate heat pump can function when ambient air hits temperatures as low as -20 degrees F.

Inverter-Driven Compressors

inverter driven compressors in cold climate heat pumps
These compressors allow heat pumps to vary their output speed based on the heating or cooling demand. This means that the heat pump can operate at a lower speed when less heating or cooling is needed, resulting in greater energy efficiency and reduced wear and tear on the system.

Variable-Speed Motors

ecm motors in cold climate heat pumps
Variable-speed blowers are able to adjust their output based on the heating or cooling demand, which helps to maintain a more consistent indoor temperature and improves overall energy efficiency.

Coil & Refrigerant Systems

cold climate heat pump refrigerant improvements
The coils in a heat pump are responsible for transferring heat between the indoor and outdoor units. Advances in coil design have led to more efficient heat transfer, which improves overall system efficiency and performance.
Q: What is the lowest temperature that a cold climate heat pump can effectively operate at?

A: As of March 2023, the typical cold climate heat pump heating switchover point is between 0 to -13 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the exact temperature at which a heat pump stops working can vary.

Q: What is supplemental heat?

Common types of supplemental heat include a gas furnace or electric heat strips in the air handler. These additional heating sources are typically used as a backup to the heat pump, and are activated automatically when the temperature drops below a certain threshold.

Q: Is supplemental heat needed for a heat pump in Colorado?

A: Yes, generally speaking supplemental heat may be needed for a heat pump in Colorado due to the extreme climate conditions. Supplemental heat provides redundancy and ensures that the home remains heated in the event that the heat pump is unable to keep up with the heating demands in extreme cold weather. The supplemental heat can be a built in heat strip and integrated with the system without the need for the user to manually intervene.

Advantages of Cold Climate Heat Pumps

One of the biggest advantages of cold climate heat pumps is their ability to operate efficiently in colder temperatures using electricity rather than directly consumed fossil fuels such as natural gas. Additionally:

  • Heat pumps can save energy over time
  • Heat pumps are institutionally favored and carry many governmental and local incentives
  • Heat pumps can reduce dependency on direct consumption of fossil fuels, partially or fully
  • Heat pumps often have additional features such as variable capacity compressors that reduce noise and increase comfort
  • Certain features such as self-learning demand patterns are only available in heat pumps
  • Heat pumps and solar array (PV) go hand in hand and are a great combination

Disadvantages of Cold Climate Heat Pumps

While there are many advantages to cold climate heat pumps, there are also some downsides.

  • Heat pumps can be more expensive to install than traditional heating systems
  • Heat pump’s theoretical efficiency & real-world performance can widely differ between properties
  • Electric heating may cost more in certain circumstances
  • Certain brands have shoddy internals and build qualities

At UniColorado, we take all downsides into consideration to ensure our homeowners’ investment is durable, reliable & meets their individual needs.

Q: Are cold climate heat pumps more expensive to install than traditional heating systems?

A: Yes, cold climate heat pumps can be more expensive to install than traditional heating systems (Typically 10-20% more expensive compared to a traditional system).

Q: How much energy will I save with a heat pump?

A: The energy savings using a heat pump can vary widely depending on the specific model of the heat pump, the insulation of the home, the layout of the ductwork, and the climate. In lab settings, heat pumps have been shown to be much more energy efficient compared to traditional heating systems, with energy savings ranging from 5-30%. Your total energy used (units) will decrease overall, but different units of energy (gas and electricity) have different densities and prices; this means your total operating costs may decrease slightly or remain the same.

Cold Climate Heat Pump vs. Regular Heat Pump

Regular heat pumps are designed to work best in milder climates where temperatures rarely drop below freezing. In colder climates, regular heat pumps may struggle to extract heat from the air efficiently, leading to decreased heating performance and reliance on supplemental heat (such as a gas furnace or electric air handler).

Cold climate heat pumps, on the other hand, are designed to operate efficiently in colder temperatures. They use more advanced features such as inverter-driven compressors and enhanced refrigerant systems to extract heat from the air even in extremely low temperatures.

Regular Heat Pump

Cold Climate Heat Pump

Cold Climate Heat Pump Cost

The cost to install a heat pump system can vary depending on several factors such as the size of the home, the specific model of the heat pump, and the cost of installation. In general, cold climate heat pumps can be more expensive to install compared to traditional heating systems or regular heat pumps.

The typical out-of-pocket cost to install a cold climate heat pump in Denver was $13,200 – $18,400 for our customers in 2023.

It’s important to note that while cold climate heat pumps may have a higher upfront cost, they can provide significant energy savings over time, leading to lower monthly energy bills and a reduced environmental impact. Additionally, there are multiple rebates, incentives and tax credits available to Colorado homeowners for heat pumps.

Type of SystemCost Range
Air-Source Heatpump$6,200 to $18,500
Cold Climate Air-Source Heatpump$7,200 to $24,100

Notable Cold Climate Heat Pump Manufacturers & Models

mitsubishi city multi mxz-sm series

Mitsubishi HyperHeat (H2i)

Smart Multi Hyper-heating INVERTER®

Mitsubishi Hyperheat units are considered one of the best cold climate heat pumps on the market due to their wide-range, patent-protected technology and award-winning engineering.

  • Inverter-Driven Compressor
  • 3D i-see Sensor®
  • Instant Hot Start
  • Heating Operating Range: -13°F & above
  • Thermal Lockout: -24°F
ac installation in centennial colorado

Carrier Greenspeed® Intelligence

Communicating Inverter-Driven Compressor

Carrier's highest efficiency and most advanced heat pump with up to 23 SEER2 for energy savings with extremely quiet performance and premium comfort features.

  • Inverter-Driven Compressor
  • Up to 23 SEER2
  • Up to 10.5 HSPF2
  • Heating Operating Range: 0°F & above
  • Tested up to: -30°F
bosch bova ids premium connected

Bosch IDS 2.0

Cold Climate Heat Pump

Bosch is a new comer to the US heat pump market with attractive technology and features.

  • Inverter-Driven Compressor
  • Up to 19 SEER2
  • Up to 10 HSPF2
  • Heating Operating Range: -4°F & above
  • Thermal Lockout: -4°F

UniColorado Heating & Cooling:
The Leading Heat Pump Experts in Denver and Surrounding Metro Areas

Unrivaled Expertise in Cold Climate Heat Pump Systems

At UniColorado Heating & Cooling, we’ve been installing heat pump systems for more than 3 decades. We pride ourselves on being the leading specialists in heat pump systems within Denver and the adjacent metro areas.

Fairly Priced Services and Competitive Equipment Costs

We understand the importance of providing our customers with fairly priced services without compromising on quality. UniColorado Heating & Cooling offers durable and reliable heat pump equipment at competitive prices.

Highly Technical and Unmatched Experience in Heat Pump Systems

Heat pump systems are generally complex and relatively new in the market, which makes it essential for homeowners to work with a company that possesses both the technical expertise and experience necessary for a successful installation. UniColorado Heating & Cooling has been at the forefront of  heat pump technology, and our team is constantly updating their skills to stay ahead of the curve.

Why Choose UniColorado Heating & Cooling for Your Cold Climate Heat Pump Needs

When it comes to heat pump systems, the experience and knowledge of the professionals you choose to work with are critical to the success and longevity of your investment. At UniColorado Heating & Cooling, we provide unparalleled expertise, fairly priced services, and competitive equipment costs, making us the top choice for homeowners in Denver and the surrounding metro areas seeking electrified heating & cooling solutions.

Contact us today for a free estimate and let us help you make the most of your heat pump investment.

  • Definition
  • Heat Pump Tech
  • Advantages
  • Disadvantages
  • Cold Climate vs Regular
  • Installation Cost
  • Notable Models
  • Conclusion
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