At a cozy rural home just west of Glyndon, Minn., Mike and Mindy Jo Halvorson were settling into another chilly winter season. The Red River Valley Cooperative Power members have never been worried about high heating bills or cold toes – their cold-climate heat pump (CCHP) has ensured that.
“It’s always the temperature we set it at. It doesn’t fluctuate much,” Mindy Jo said, glancing to the living room’s digital thermostat. “I really don’t think about it at all, because it’s always consistent.”
The Halvorsons’ CCHP is an advanced style of air-source heat pump, which efficiently transfers heat instead of generating it. In the winter, it absorbs and transfers heat inside, and in the summer the unit works in reverse, removing heat from your home. Heat pump technology has come a long way since its introduction to the public in the 1970s.
“This isn’t your grandparent’s heat pump,” Mike said. “With the newer cold-climate technology, the compressors – as it gets colder outside – can ramp up and absorb more heat from the outside air and do it at lower temperatures.”
Mike is a territory manager for Auer Steel & Heating Supply Company, an Upper Midwest heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) distributor. Educating contractors about the best heating and cooling choices for consumers is a large part of his job, and air-source heat pumps dominate the conversation.
“Homeowners are starting to step up and ask for this now. Heat pumps are getting to be the big buzzword, and that’s why companies are putting a lot of their investment into engineering the technology,” he said. “The future of our industry is air-source heat pumps.”
With the improved engineering of CCHPs, the systems have become popular even in the coldest parts of Minnesota and North Dakota. The units are designed to transfer heat at as low as 20 degrees below zero, but the most efficient heating can be experienced at a balance point around 10 degrees – far lower than a standard heat pump. At that point, the system can switch to a backup heating source, like propane or hydronic.
As cooperative members, the Halvorsons take advantage of the off-peak program, through which they receive a reduced electricity rate (nearly 50%) to allow the co-op to control the CCHP if regional electric demand is too high. The switch to backup happens seamlessly with no interruption in comfort.
Mike explained that their CCHP efficiently covers 80% of the seasonal heating hours of their home. He adds that between the low off-peak rate, the large cooperative rebates available, and the current volatility of the fossil fuel market, installing an electric CCHP is an easy choice for homeowners.
“They all want to be comfortable, they want to lower their energy bills, and they want to do their part,” he said.