The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) believes heat pumps have potential to help lower greenhouse gas emissions. That’s why it’s considering investing $250 million, funded through President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, into the product category. But first, heat pumps must prove they can provide adequate warmth in extremely cold conditions.

The DOE has invited manufacturers to participate in its Residential Cold Climate Heat Pump Technology Challenge, which presents two performance benchmarks: heat pumps that can operate efficiently at 5 and -15 degrees Fahrenheit. Manufacturers can participate in one or both segments of the challenge.

In an interview with Contracting Business, Katie Davis, vice president of engineering and technology for Trane’s residential HVAC division, says the company tested a prototype of a cold-climate heat pump that operated in temperatures as low as -23 degrees Fahrenheit.

While that’s an encouraging sign that the technology is advancing, Davis admits products on the market today may still need a backup gas furnace in subzero temperatures.

“Even if you live in colder areas of the country, a heat pump might be the right choice for your home when matched with a furnace or other electric heating device,” Davis says. “This way, your home will continue to stay warm on the coldest days or run more efficiently for most of the season.”

Pairing your electric heat pump with a gas furnace or using heat from a tankless water heater would allow a hybrid system to maintain the highest efficiency potential.

Meanwhile, Trane has no current plans to scale back production of its gas-fired appliances.

“We will continue to provide the most efficient options available including heat pumps, more environmentally friendly and efficient furnaces, and the pairing of the two in dual fuel systems,” she says.

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