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Do heat pumps work in Chicago winters?

Heat pumps make your home feel amazing and significantly cut energy waste. But can they take on a Chicagoland winter? Find out.

Heat pumps make your home feel amazing and significantly cut energy waste. But can they take on a Chicagoland winter? Find out.

You’ve probably heard that heat pumps are the best and most efficient HVAC technology on the market today. But if you’ve lived through February in Chicago, you’re probably wondering one thing: 

Do heat pumps work in Chicago? Are they really going to keep my house warm during a brutal Chicago winter?

The answer, in brief, is yes. New heat pumps are more than capable of handling Chicago’s frigid winters—and freezing Midwestern winters in general.

In fact, heat pumps are used successfully as far north as the Arctic Circle—and they’re extremely popular in countries like Finland and Norway (two places that are certainly not strangers to cold, long winters!)

So if you’re worried about whether a heat pump is a good investment for your Chicago house, don’t be: There’s nothing a Chicago winter can throw at you that today’s heat pump technology won’t be able to handle.

Why heat pumps in Chicago work so well

To understand why heat pumps are such a good match for the Chicago climate, it’s important to know how heat pumps work.

How heat pumps work to heat (and cool) your home

The big thing to know about heat pumps is that they don’t produce heat at all. Instead, heat pumps work by transporting heat from one place to another. 

Heat pumps can heat and cool your home while using up to 66% less energy than a traditional HVAC system. 

In the winter, a heat pump extracts heat from the outside environment—because there’s heat energy even in very cold air—and transports that heat into your home. 

In the summer, it reverses the process—it removes heat energy from the inside of your home and transfers it to the outside. (Learn more in this quick explainer video below.)

Because moving heat energy is much more efficient than producing it from scratch, heat pumps waste less energy.

They can heat and cool your home while using up to 66% less energy than a traditional HVAC system.  (Learn more about how heat pumps work at The Ultimate Guide to Heat Pumps.)

That’s a real game-changer when it comes to increasing the energy-efficiency of your Chicago home.

It also means that a heat pump can replace your heater and your air conditioning system—which is especially important in the Chicago area, where the climate can swing wildly between temperature extremes. 

That all sounds great, right? But you need to be sure that a heat pump will actually keep your Chicago house comfortable on the coldest winter days. 

It can. But you don’t need to take our word for it.

Learn how Sealed helped make Gretchen’s 150-year-old NY home comfortable year-round.

Yes, heat pumps are ready for Chicago winters.

The best way to know that heat pumps are ready for Chicago winters is to discover that they have worked satisfactorily in other places—especially places with even colder climates. (Yes, as hard as it is to believe when the wind is blowing up off Lake Michigan, there are places that are colder than Chicago.)

heat pump vs. furnace in Chicago winter

To find out how heat pumps behave in super-cold weather, let’s look at the science.  A recent field test of air-source heat pumps in Minnesota was completed by researchers from the Center of Energy and Environment. The test was designed to see whether heat pumps could withstand some of the coldest temperatures in the country. 

The result: Heat pumps passed the test—and with flying colors. 

Not only did heat pumps keep the test homes warm and comfortable during the winter, but they did so with a stellar efficiency rating: In fact, the data showed that Minnesota residents could expect a 39–65% reduction in their energy consumption by switching to heat pumps (1).  That’s a lot of energy waste stopped in its tracks.

Stopping energy waste in your home is great, but if you live in a place with really cold winters, you’re probably concerned about comfort and reliability on the coldest of days.

Heat pumps have been found to provide better heating than traditional HVAC systems.

A recent consumer study from Europe found that the vast majority of users (80%) across climate zones said that heat pumps provided better heating than the traditional HVAC they’d used before (2). A huge success. 

But that success is hardly surprising. Heat pumps have been popular in extremely cold climates for years, they work well at temperatures far below freezing, and they’ve been successfully tested as far north as the Arctic Circle. (Learn more about how heat pumps work in winter.)

In short: New heat pump technology can handle Chicago. Easily. 

That wasn’t always the case.

Modern heat pump on new construction house

Why today’s heat pumps are so much better than older heat pumps 

If you’re suspicious of heat pumps, it’s probably because you’ve read somewhere that they don’t work as well in cold climates. 

That myth exists for a reason: It used to be true. Original heat pump technology that was marketed in the 1980s and 1990s did indeed struggle in freezing weather, which is why you’ll find a ton of outdated information on the internet about heat pumps.

But that’s changed. There’s a world of difference between 40-year-old heat pumps and the brand-new, super-efficient heat pump technology that’s on the market now. 

In fact, new heat pumps have been completely redesigned. They’re now outfitted with an improved coil design, better fans, better motors, and—the biggest difference—a completely redesigned compressor. 

All of these upgrades mean that new heat pumps work much better at keeping your home cozy on the coldest winter days than the heat pumps of yesterday—especially if your house has been properly air-sealed and insulated.

Benefits of Chicago heat pumps

Heat pumps can help keep your house comfortable throughout a Chicagoland winter, but that’s far from their only benefit. So, are heat pumps good in Illinois? 

Here’s why heat pumps are an obvious choice for Illinois residents:

1. Heat pumps are an all-in-one HVAC system

Chicago winters aren’t the only weather story in town—summer in the city can vault temperatures well into the 90s. Heat pumps are just as good at air conditioning as they are at heating, so your home will feel comfortable year-round and waste less energy at the same time. 

They’ve also come a long way in style and design, but if you’re not a fan of how they look, learn how to hide a mini split heat pump.

2. Heat pumps also purify and dehumidify the air

Chicago air quality leaves something to be desired. In fact, the American Lung Association recently named Chicago the 18th Most Polluted City in the country (3). 

If you own a heat pump, though, you’ll breathe easier. Your air-source heat pump is designed to dehumidify and purify air continuously, so the air inside your house will always be fresh and clean.

3. Heat pumps are easy to live with—and safe

Heat pump technology doesn’t produce weird smells or loud noises. Plus, heat pumps run on non-flammable fuels, so you won’t need to worry about possible explosions or carbon-monoxide emissions.

4. Heat pumps are super comfortable

Because heat pumps continuously circulate air, you won’t find patches of cold and warm air in your house. It’ll just be comfortable everywhere. (Plus, heat pumps can be installed with room-by-room temperature control, so no more arguments about temperature.) 

Chicago winter weather—House covered in snow

5. Heat pumps are perfect for older houses

If you have one of those cranky, drafty old Chicago houses, rest assured: A heat pump is the perfect solution. Not only can a heat pump system perfectly heat every corner of your house, but you won’t need to build new ductwork or otherwise compromise the structure of your house to install a heat pump system. There are are ductless heat pump options, like mini split AC, that heat and cool your home without using ductwork. Read How mini splits work to learn more.

Have a period home? Check out our guide to Victorian House Energy Efficiency to learn more about upgrading your older home to cut energy waste without losing all the charm.

6. Heat pumps are the most efficient HVAC on the market

When it comes to efficient and sustainable HVAC, there’s really no comparison: Heat pumps are—by far!—the greenest heating and cooling technology available.

In fact, a heat pump can heat and cool your home for about a third of the energy of a regular HVAC system. Plus, they run on electricity—which can be sourced from sustainable producers. (Learn how to find clean electricity options in Chicago in our guide to Energy Efficiency in Chicago).

In short, if you’re looking to cut energy waste in your home, the heat pump is far and away your best HVAC choice. It’s better for you, better for your energy bill, and better for the planet.

Basically, heat pumps are a life upgrade. And now, if you own a qualifying house, you might be able to get a heat pump installed in Chicago for ZERO upfront cost.

(Here’s how it works: We work with trusted local professionals and manage the project, keeping you updated every step of the way. We take care of the initial upgrade cost, and you get to enjoy a comfortable home without the hassle. We do all the work in energy waste and a more comfortable home.)

Learn more about the pros and cons of heat pumps at The Ultimate Guide to Heat Pumps.

Heat Pump in Chicago FAQ

Heat pumps are known to perform excellently down to -13 degrees F—and possibly at even colder temps if your home is air sealed and insulated.

Do heat pumps work below freezing temperatures?

Yes, air-source heat pumps work exceptionally well below freezing. In fact, they work below -10 degrees Fahrenheit!

Do heat pumps work in a polar vortex?

Heat pumps have been shown to work in temperatures significantly below freezing, so they can handle a polar vortex in some scenarios. 

Sometimes polar vortex temperatures can reach below -30 degrees F (4). And heat pumps are known to perform well up to -13 degrees F—and possibly at even colder temps if your home is air sealed and insulated (5).

If you live in an area that regularly experiences temperatures below -13 degrees F, you can still enjoy the amazing benefits of an electric heat pump. Some homeowners choose to keep their old furnace or boiler as an emergency back-up heat source in the case of intensely cold weather, which is often called a dual-fuel system.

If you live in an area that regularly experiences temperatures below -13 degrees F, you can still enjoy the amazing benefits of an electric heat pump.

While we don’t recommend a duel-fuel system for every home—because moving toward all-electric appliances is the best way to reduce energy waste—this could be a wise option, depending on how cold it gets where you live. Talk to an expert on our team to learn more about how to use a heat pump in freezing temperatures and how they make your home feel incredible year-round. 

Illustration of house in winter remains cold in freezing weather without Sealed upgrades

Are heat pumps good in the Midwest?

Yes, heat pumps are an ideal HVAC solution in the Midwest—including Illinois. That’s because a heat pump is a heater, an air conditioner, a dehumidifier, and an air purifier—all in one. That means heat pump technology is the only piece of HVAC equipment that can handle super-cold winters and hot and humid summers while also cutting down on energy waste. 

How can I find heat pump installation in Chicago?

Get a heat pump installed in Chicago by calling Sealed at 888-985-7481. We’ll help you figure out if you’re eligible for a heat pump (and other home comfort upgrades)—and we’ll cover the upfront costs.

(Alternatively, you can take our 2-minute quiz here to see if your house is eligible.)

Can a heat pump be used by itself or do I need to pair it with a furnace?

Good news! Heat pumps work so well that the vast majority of homeowners won’t need a furnace (or any kind of backup heating system).

But remember, if you’re in an area that regularly has frigid temperatures below -13 degrees F, you can still benefit from using a heat pump as your primary HVAC system. 

If you’d like to know the best option for your house, talk with a Sealed expert. Talking to us about your home is free, and we can help you figure out exactly what your house needs to stay comfortable in all weather.

How does a heat pump work with an electric furnace? 

When a heat pump is installed in a house that’s been correctly sealed and insulated, there’s usually no need for a furnace. However, if you’d like to keep a furnace as an emergency backup for temperatures below -13 degrees F, some homeowners choose to do so (you can keep it turned off for most of the year and use it as needed or desired).

How to get a Chicago heat pump installed—with no upfront cost

If you’re sold on heat pumps, we’ve got great news: It’s never been easier for Chicago residents to get a heat pump installed.

At Sealed, we work to make your home more comfortable and up to 3 times more energy efficient. In fact, if your house qualifies, you can get a professional heat pump installation for no upfront cost. 

Your upgrades and improvements will be done right the first time,  and you’ll pay us back for the work done based on the actual energy reduction we achieve for your home. 

We’ll analyze your house, hire local, trusted experts, take care of all the details (while keeping you informed every step of the way), and pay the upfront bills. Working with us is a straightforward, stress-free way to get a comfortable, less wasteful home.

If I don’t have to spend any extra money to get a huge improvement to my home, it’s just a no brainer at that point.

—Scott R., Sealed Customer

Find out if your home qualifies today—take our quick 2-minute quiz.



March 22, 2022