| November 22, 2023

Your Guide to Heat Pumps and Extreme Cold

Heat Pump in winter on a snowy day.

There are so many great things about living in Nova Scotia, from garlic fingers to the Cabot Trail. But we also know that winters here can get cold. Really cold.

Fortunately, most modern heat pumps are engineered for cold climates and can operate efficiently in winter conditions, but we know that extreme windchill can sometimes drive temperatures down even further. So, as you prepare for the winter season, here’s what you need to know about caring for your heat pump during a cold snap.

Your Heat Pump During Cold Weather

When temperatures plunge, your heat pump will need to go into defrost mode more often. Typically, a heat pump extracts heat from the outdoor air and transfers it into your home. During defrost mode, however, the extracted heat is used to warm up the heat pump unit itself. That’s right, even the most frigid air contains heat: For example, air at -18°C contains 85% of the heat that it contained at 21°C. During extreme cold conditions, expect the defrost mode to engage at least once per hour for up to 15 minutes.

You will also notice some unusual sounds coming from your unit. “Because your heat pump is working so hard in the cold air, you’ll hear noises you didn’t before,” says ARL Mechanical owner and heat pump expert Keith Gillis. “Gurgling, crackling and whooshing noises are all common, so don’t be alarmed.”

Due to the effort your heat pump is making to warm your home and warm itself, you may find that it doesn’t have the same heating capacity it normally does. In that case, check your heat pump’s outdoor unit. Make sure that the heat pump’s filters are clean, and the outdoor unit is clear of snow. If it’s close to the ground, make some space by carefully shoveling around the unit. “If there’s ice built up on the unit,” adds Gillis, “shut down your heat pump and use hot water to manually thaw out the unit. Then, turn it back on.”

Partner Spotlight: ARL Mechanical

If you have more questions related to heat pumps and the cold, or anything else, reach out to one of our Efficiency Preferred Partners like ARL Mechanical in Sydney. Owner Keith Gillis is a Cape Bretoner with over 13 years’ experience in the HVAC-R (Heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration) trade, plus Red Seal Certification. He oversees a team of trusted local professionals who can walk you through everything from purchasing your first heat pump, to maintaining and otherwise getting the most value from the unit you already have. You can expect smooth, trouble-free installation and service from the initial visit to the end of the job – plus the accountability and ease of communication that only locals can provide.

ARL Mechanical is located at 1220 Upper Prince Street in Sydney, Nova Scotia, and you can reach them via phone or email:

Phone: (902) 537-1905

Email: keith@arlmechanical.ca


Thanks for reading – and keep enjoying the good things efficiency brings!