Do Heat Pumps Work In Our Cold Climate?

With Central Oregon’s cold winters do heat pumps actually work?

By Ryan Davies
CEC Director of Customer & Energy Services


Central Electric Cooperative Energy Specialists visit homes every day and one common question they receive is, “do heat pumps actually work in our cold climate?”  It’s common to think that given the average low winter temperatures in Central Oregon of 20°F, and extremes to negative digits, that a heat pump is an expensive lawn ornament.  To debunk this myth, let’s delve into the basics.

A heat pump uses electricity to move heat from one place to another, instead of using electricity to produce heat like all electric resistance heaters (electric furnace, baseboard, cadet, radiant heater, plug in space heater, radiant heat dish, etc.). The heat pump reverses the process to efficiently provide cooling in the summer months.  All electric resistance heaters are the same efficiency and have a COP (coefficient of performance) of 1. For every 1 unit of electricity input, roughly 1 unit of heat is provided.  The average heat pump on the other hand has a COP of 2 to 3. For every 1 unit of electricity input, 2 to 3 units of heat are provided. Whether it is a ductless heat pump, or traditional heat pump that works with your air handler/furnace and ducting, the heat pump is the clear winner in the race of efficiency.

So how does that magic box work?

The easiest explanation is even when it is extremely cold outside, there is heat energy in the air.  The outside air would need to be -460°F (absolute zero) for there to be no heat energy.  The warmer the air is outside the higher the COP, and more efficient the heat pump will be.  Even at 27°F (the average Central Oregon winter low temperature over the past 15 years) the COP of a heat pump can be around 2.  As the outdoor temperature drops, the heat pump may need some help from the supplemental heat source.  This could be the electric resistance strip heat in your air handler/furnace if you have a ducted heat pump, or the electric resistance cadets or baseboard heaters if you have a ductless heat pump.  Some heat pumps are built to provide heat from negative outdoor temperatures, while others provide heat down to average winter temperatures. The main take-away is that even the most basic heat pump will out-perform all electric resistance heaters.  On average, over the course of a year, a heat pump system will heat a home using 30-50% less energy than electric resistance heaters.

CEC has two cash incentive programs designed to help pay for heat pump systems, which make it a great time to consider this efficient way of heating your home.  The amount of the rebate depends on the efficiency and type of installation.

To learn more, visit the following CEC program pages:

CEC Heat Pump Program:

CEC Ductless Heat Pump Program: