Field Validation of Air-Source Heat Pumps for Cold Climates

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


Heating energy is the largest end-use for U.S. residential buildings accounting for approximately one-third of residential building energy consumption (EIA 2021). Historically, air-source heat pumps have been limited to temperate climates because of subpar performance at extremely cold outdoor air temperatures. However, recent advances to cold-climate air-source heat pump technology, which typically rely on inverter-driven, variable-speed compressors and variable-speed fans, have significantly improved low-temperature heat pump performance enabling the technology to save energy for many homes in cold climates. The primary objective of this project was to measure in-field performance of centrally ducted, variable-capacity air-source heat pumps in cold climates to validate performance and develop field-based performance maps. The project focused on quantifying heat pump performance at cold temperatures. The sites identified for the study were primarily located in the Northwest United States since homes in the region tend to have all-electric space heating systems and high-efficiency heat pumps have been incentivized in the region for several years. NREL partnered with Ecotope, Inc., a small energy consulting firm located in Seattle, WA, for site recruitment, monitoring equipment installation, data quality management. All the sites included in the study had previously installed a high-efficiency, central heat pump system. One site was in a Denver, CO suburb, which was the only dual fuel heat pump in the study. We used airside and power measurements, collected at 5-second intervals, to quantify heat pump capacity, coefficient of performance (COP), and auxiliary heater energy consumption. We developed algorithms to automatically determine the heat pump operating mode including defrost and auxiliary heating operation. A whole-house thermal and duct audit was completed during the initial site visit to estimate winter heating loads and assess heat pump sizing. Whole-home heating design loads were calculated at ASHRAE 99% design temperatures and compared to manufacturer-reported maximum capacities to assess the heat pump sizing at each site.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages116
StatePublished - 2023

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-5500-84745


  • cold climate
  • field validation
  • heat pump
  • residential


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