Cold-climate heat pumps heat homes in the winter and cool homes in the summer. The systems work by moving heat from one place to another, bringing heat from outside in during winter and removing it during summer.
Unlike most heating systems, heat pumps do not generate any heat. Though the air in winter certainly feels cold, especially in cold climates, there is some ambient heat. Cold-climate heat pumps take advantage of this heat by moving it from the outdoors into the home. There is a limit to the ability of heat pumps to suck heat from cold air, however. A secondary heat source is typically required for homes in areas that experience temperatures below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Also, heat pumps work best in homes with a very good thermal envelope, which refers to the quality and efficiency of a home's insulation and sealing of air.
In the warm months, cold-climate heat pumps work very similarly to standard air conditioners, removing heat from the air in a home and sending it outside. In fact, a typical air conditioner can be called a one-way heat pump.
Heat pumps are very cost effective because the units don't generate heat. Government programs designed to increase energy efficiency may also provide consumers with discounts on the costs of buying, installing and maintaining a cold-climate heat pump.