October 26, 2021

Efficient heat pumps good for environment

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Barbara Kobritz of Cortland stands next to her cold climate air source heat pump.

Barbara Kobritz said she’s “kind of obsessive about climate stuff.”

The Cortland woman, a retired Tompkins Cortland Community College librarian, installed a cold-climate air source heat pump in her home.

It provides heat and air conditioning, without burning oil, propane or natural gas.

“I want people to know, there’s an option out there,” Kobritz said. “There’s no more fossil fuel coming into my house, which was the whole point for me. No more gas.”

Cold climate air source heat pumps are electric appliances that circulate heat in and out of the home to keep it comfortable year round, according to HeatSmart CNY.

“This is air sourced, not geo-thermal,” said Kobritz, so she did not have pipes installed underground to draw heat or cool air into the house.

She has a pump on the outside of her 1,200square-foot house that looks like an air conditioner and in her case, three individual units on the walls in her home.

Kobritz worked with HeatSmart CNY to assess her home’s needs, select an installer and come up with financing and rebates for her system installed in the spring.

HeatSmart CNY is a campaign to make it easy and affordable to improve energy efficiency in homes and buildings, working with CNY Regional Planning and Development Board and Alliance for a Green Economy. It also works with New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

HeatSmart CNY focuses on insulation, air sealing and electric or geothermal heat pumps for people in Cortland and surrounding counties.

Image provided by Timothy Lantz

A ductless cold climate air source heat pump in this NYSERDA graphic.

“We’re trying to help people (obtain) incentives that reduce the cost and connect them with vetted installers,” said Lindsay Speer, campaign manager with HeatSmart CNY.

While the heat pumps are not new technology, advances make them more viable in upstate New York’s climate.

Speer’s parents in the South have been using heat pumps for years, she said. But now they can operate in colder climates, down to minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

The pumps transfer heat by using a refrigerant that absorbs heat from warmer air and moves the heat into a space with colder air, similar to a refrigerator or an air conditioner. It takes less energy to move heat then to create heat, so it is more efficient.

So far, 34 people in Cortland County signed up to have an installer assess their homes in the past two years. Ten installed pumps, half geothermal and half cold-climate air source heat pumps, Speer said. The campaign will go on for another two years.

Grants and rebates are available. A family of four in Cortland County making less than $115,000, “they need to come and take a look at us,” she said.

A no cost energy assessment can get people started and they can get help with the energy bills, Speer said. “They don’t have to change what they heat with. We want people to save money.”

A cold climate air source heat pump would be ideal for anyone who uses oil, propane or electric baseboards for heat, Speer said, cutting energy costs in half.

But a cold-climate air source heat pump probably would not be cheaper than natural gas furnace heat, she said, because gas is so cheap.

mage provided by Lindsay Speer

A ducted air source heat pump in this NYSERDA image. Cold climate air source heat pumps can be ductless or ducted.

Matt Dennis of Cortland, a home energy adviser for Halco, added a cold climate air source heat pump to his 3,000-square-foot house.

“I wanted air conditioning in my house. I wanted to get off natural gas. I put on solar panels to generate energy,” he said. “I wanted to get off of fossil fuels.”

It doesn’t save money in a natural gas-heated home, he said, but that’s not the only reason to do it.

“It’s saving CO2 in the air,” Dennis said. And it’s a safer form of energy.

Basically, installing a cold climate air source heat pump is comparable to replacing an air conditioner and furnace, Speer said.

“Since air source heat pumps use electricity more efficiently for heating, they have been known to reduce annual electricity costs by an average of $450 in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic compared to electric resistance systems,” said Timothy Lantz, a NYSERDA communications team member. “Air source heat pumps have been known to save an average of $940 annually when replacing an oil system — or $300 annually as a supplemental system, when the oil system is used infrequently.”

Now is the time to get the home assessed to take advantage of those rebates, Speer said. Less rebate money will be available, starting in January.

Rebates can put a serious dent in the cost of the project, said William Sunderlin of Fayetteville, on the steering committee of HeatSmart CNY. He installed a system on his 1825 house more expensive than others, because he didn’t want to modify the historic structure.

“More than 40 percent of the costs were paid for by New York State and the federal government,” he said. More important to Sunderlin, a climate scientist, is that fossil fuel is heating or cooling his home.

For people concerned about the environment, like Kobritz, who also installed solar panels on her home, it’s worth the cost.

Kobritz faced spending $5,000 to repair her old gas boiler and chimney. It galled her to spend that kind of money and still use fossil fuel.

She decided to go for the ductless cold climate air source heat pump to take care of her heat and air conditioning. She also got a new hot water heater with this technology, spending about $20,000 for the two systems, after accessing grants from NYSERDA and National Grid.

It was worth it to her to get a low interest loan to pay for the project.

“The problems that we are having right now are so overpowering,” Kobritz said. “You think, ‘What can I do? What can I do about it?’ This is something I could do. Even if I no longer live here, I’ll leave one house beyond me that no longer uses fossil fuel.”