At What Temperature is a Heat Pump Not Effective?  Heat Pump Temperature Ranges

At What Temperature is a Heat Pump Not Effective? Heat Pump Temperature Ranges

People often ask questions about heat pumps, and one of the most common questions is, at what temperature is a heat pump not effective?  Some of you may know that heat pumps only work within a certain temperature range, which is why they are so popular in the southern states.  If you are impatient, I won't make you wait; heat pumps don't work well below 25-30 degrees Fahrenheit.  But what you might not know is that the heat pump temperature range is broader than most people think, and with the addition of supplemental heating it can work even in the chilliest of temperatures.  Those of you who have read our articles know that we started as a small, U.S. Veteran owned and operated company that built our reputation on giving honest, straight answers; this will be no different.  Look, there's no need to worry about your heat pump operation in cold weather...in this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about heat pump temperature ranges, including at what temperature a heat pump is not effective, what a heat pump is, and some other options you have to keep your heat pump sizzling in the winter.

 

 

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At What Temperature is a Heat Pump Not Effective?  A Heat Pump Crash Course

Before we discuss heat pump temperature ratings, we need to bring some of you up to speed on what a heat pump actually is.  I know, I know...you're asking, at what temperature is a heat pump not effective...but even for those of you who think you know what a heat pump is, you first need to have a handle on how it works!  Otherwise you won't understand anything we say below about heat pump temperature ranges.

In its simplest explanation, a heat pump can be thought of as being an air conditioner that has the ability to work in reverse (also see: How Does AC Work?).  An air conditioner works by using a refrigerant to trap the heat inside of your home, and expel it outside using a condensing unit (if you don't know what these terms mean, it's ok...it's not important.  If you want to know, try: Split vs. Packaged Air Conditioners; What's the Difference?).

A heat pump works in exactly the same way, only it has a little trick up its sleeve...the reversing valve.  A reversing valve allows your heat pump to work as an air conditioner when it is hot outside.  Then, it can reverse the flow of its refrigerant and heat your home when it's cold out!  Sounds great, right?  But there's a catch...your heat pump temperature range. 

Your heat pump is not effective below a certain temperature range, which is why they are more popular in the south.  We'll discuss more about that in the next section...but then, you wouldn't have askedthe question, at what temperature is a heat pump not effective had you not known that, right?

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Heat Pump Temperature Range - At What Temperature is a Heat Pump Not Effective?

We get it...you're wondering, at what temperature is a heat pump not effective?  I promise, we'll get there...besides, let's be honest...if you were really that impatient, you would have done what my wife does and scroll down to the good stuff!

 

At what temperature is a heat pump not effective? Heat pump temperature range factors

 

Why Heat Pumps Don't Work Below Certain Temperatures 

Think about it...heat pump temperature ranges exist because of how the heat pump actually works (if you're confused, you scrolled down the page without reading - sigh - so, I'll tell you what I told my flight students...go back, and do it right!).  Heat pumps - like air conditioners - work by removing heat from the air (instead of creating heat, like a furnace does).  But if it's negative 22 degrees out like it gets here in Bozeman, Montana, then there isn't much heat to take out of the air to heat your home, right?  That's why heat pumps don't work well below freezing temperatures.

Also try:

Heat Pump Temperature Ranges

If you've paid attention (which you, like my daughter, likely haven't...), then you'd realize that I've already told you what the minimum heat pump temperature range is (yes, Mrs. Madina, I ended my sentence with a preposition).  But for those still wondering at what temperature a heat pump quits working:

 

  • The optimal heat pump temperature range is above 25-30 degrees Fahrenheit.

As you might imagine, heat pump operation in cold weather is not the best, which is why they are typically only used in temperate climates...think beaches, palm trees, and oranges.  But heat pumps also have one huge benefit that furnaces lack:

 

  • Heat pumps work in areas that don't have access to natural gas or propane...because they are electric!

Tip: Avoid Overpaying for Your Heat Pump

As you get closer to buying your heat pump, it's important to know what a fair price should be.  Here's a short video about an online calculator that can help you get a fair price:

 SHOW ME HEAT PUMP PRICES 

Heat Pump Temperature Range - The Heat Pump Efficiency Outside Temperature Graph

For those of you who are nerds (so, basically anyone still reading...), here's a pretty good graph from our friends over at Penn State (further information: Penn: Heat Pump Temperature Ranges).  Feel free to have a look...for those that are on the more leisurely side of things (like myself), I'll break it down...

 

At what temperature is a heat pump not effective? Heat pump efficiency outside temperature graph

Heat Pump Efficiency Outside Temperature Graph

 

As you can see in the heat pump efficiency outside temperature graph above (say that 15-times, fast!), as the temperature continues to go down from about 70 degrees (because no one besides my wife would have the heat on when it's above 70...), the demand for heat increases (green line above).  However, as the temperature continues to go down, the heat pump works harder and harder, and is therefore becoming less and less efficient (red line).  So, in other words:

 

  • As the temperature goes down, your heat pump uses more energy to produce less heat.

At What Temperature Does a Heat Pump Not Work?  Heat Pumps That Work Below Freezing

Don't lose the faith!  No need for depression, and no need to retire into an endless pit of scotch drinking (unless you want to, of course...don't mind if I do, sip.  I might have a glass of 12-year Glenmorangie Lasanta in front of me as I write this).  I digress...there are other options, and even people up here in Montana have heat pumps!

Heat pumps don't work well at low temperatures, but lucky for you, there's another option....supplemental electric strip heat!

Supplemental electric strip heat can be added to your heat pump to keep your home toasty warm when the temperature drops, and is recommended if you live in an area that routinely drops below freezing (the green shaded area on the graph above denotes temperatures which require supplemental heating).

Why Not Use a Furnace Instead of a Heat Pump?

Well...you should, if you live in a cold climate!  But sometimes people live in an area that doesn't have access to natural gas or propane.  One of the advantages of a heat pump is that it only needs electricity to operate.  As such, it is often people who live in these areas of the colder climates that have a heat pump with supplemental heat.

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Final Thoughts: At What Temperature is a Heat Pump Not Effective?

So you were wondering, at what temperature is a heat pump not effective?  Hopefully this article has helped answer that question, and any others about heat pump temperature ranges, and what you can do to improve heat pump performance when it gets below 25-30 degrees.  For more on heat pumps and other questions, try our HVAC Blog.  Ok, this is where I say, "feel free to contact us if you have any questions about heat pumps" and blah, blah...but I'd really rather you didn't...

 HEAT PUMP INSTALLATION COST CALCULATOR 

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Timothy Kautz
About the author
Tim K.

The University of Virginia - 2005 / The Wharton School of Finance - 2016 / U.S. Naval Aviator 2005-2015. At All Systems Mechanical air conditioning and heating, we believe that the experience our clients have is every bit as important as the products they receive. Simply put, our results speak for themselves, and we'd be happy to help. If you're in the market for a new AC or furnace, make sure that you get a fair price! Try our online calculator; click the tab on the top of this page for more information.

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