Experts say there’s a heat pump for everyone
Demand for heat pumps … has grown significantly as homeowners and businesses have been increasingly interested in more efficient forms of heating and cooling, as well as a desire to be less reliant on fossil fuels.
— Jed Malcolm, Salamander Construction
VERMONT — More than 20,000 Vermont homes and businesses have taken advantage of Efficiency Vermont’s heat pump programs since Jake Marin launched the first one in 2013, and more than 15,000 have installed heat pump hot water heaters.
“There are lot of reasons to install a heat pump,” said Marin, who is Efficiency Vermont’s HVAC and Refrigeration Program Manager. “Reducing your carbon footprint, saving energy, saving money.”
Heat pumps are also a great fit for solar electricity systems, and in new buildings they’re a great way to get heating and air conditioning at a very low cost and not have to deal with fuel storage or piping.
And then there’s just the reality that “electrification is the future,” Marin said. “That’s where everything’s headed — in home heating, transportation, everything.”
Vermonters are installing one of two types of heat pumps: ground-source or air-source.
“The difference is where you’re getting the energy from that you’re bringing into the home,” Marin said.
Because they’re simpler and less expensive, air-source heat pumps have been the overwhelming choice in Vermont.
Air-source heat pumps come in several varieties:
• Ductless heat pumps are what people often picture when they think of a heat pump, Marin said. They consist of an outdoor component that sits on the side of the house and one or more indoor units, which can hang on the wall or from the ceiling. It’s kind of a room heater and air conditioner that’s not tied into a building’s ductwork or radiator system. Installation of ductless heat pumps usually takes less than a day.
• Ducted heat pumps involve tying into an existing network of air ducts. The advantage of these systems is that they allow heating and cooling to be more evenly distributed throughout the building, Marin said, and there’s nothing to hang on the wall.
• Air-to-water heat pumps use the outdoor air to heat up water, which gets circulated throughout the building.
About 9 in 10 Vermonters install ductless heat pumps, Marin said.
So who should get them?
“I would say there is a heat pump solution for every home of every shape and size,” Marin said. “It’s just that things can get more complex and more expensive, depending on what you’re working with and what your goals are. Every home requires some element of design and intent and understanding of what the goals are. But that’s true of all HVAC, not just heat pumps.”
The technology has improved over the years. But perceptions haven’t always caught up.
“There was a perception for many years — because it was true early on — that heat pumps were really only for moderate climates, you know, south of the Mason-Dixon line,” Marin said.
But many heat pumps can now handle Vermont’s winter temperatures — down to about 15 below zero.
Efficiency Vermont incentive programs help defray the cost of heat pumps and heat pump hot water heaters, often in the form of equipment that’s discounted at the time it’s purchased by contractors from the wholesaler or distributor.
Installations of ductless systems will typically see a savings of $350-450 off the total price of purchase and installation, while ducted installations will be reduced by $1,000-2,000 and air-to-water systems by $4,000-5,000.
Efficiency Vermont keeps an updated list of residential heat pump incentives at tinyurl.com/xvyvjrha.
Green Mountain Power customers may also be eligible for rebates between $300 and $1,000. Visit tinyurl.com/huvhcp3x for more information.
Efficiency Vermont also maintains a list of qualified contractors on its website at tinyurl.com/4dpr77ax.
“We’ve done vetting on these contractors and they’re part of what we call our Efficiency Excellence Network, or EEN,” Marin said. “It’s a great way for us to engage the supply channel to make sure the products are available, the right ones are being supported, and contractors have training on the best design, selection and installation of equipment.”
Before Marin spoke with the Independent last week, he’d been on a call with 15 contractors, “just running over some installation best practices,” he said.
Salamander Construction in Middlebury is a member of the EEN.
“We’ve been installing heat pumps for the past two years, although our lead installer has been installing them for over six years,” Salamander’s owner Jed Malcolm told the Independent.
Installing the systems involves “evaluating the layout of the spaces needing to be conditioned with heating and cooling in terms of their size, ceiling height, window sizes, insulation level of the house shell and other existing heating and cooling sources,” he said. “Heat pumps can be installed as standalone units or incorporated into existing ducted systems. Multiple interior heat pump heads can now be run off a single exterior unit which has made efficiency even better.”
And more people are buying them, Malcolm said:
“There are a lot of factors driving demand for heat pumps, which has grown significantly as homeowners and businesses have been increasingly interested in more efficient forms of heating and cooling, as well as a desire to be less reliant on fossil fuels. Also, as they become more common, clients are less apt to be concerned with the appearance of the heat pumps. The interior heads are now available in many options including the traditional wall-hung units, floor units, ceiling cassettes and the aforementioned ducted system, which is a great option for homes with existing forced-air heating systems.”
Installing the units is not always without challenges, however.
“The hardest thing about installing heat pumps is when homes are broken up into multiple smaller spaces,” Malcolm said. “Open-floor-plan living rooms and kitchen spaces are easier to design and install than multiple small bedrooms. The more closed spaces the more units are required, which can increase the cost.”
Malcolm credited Efficiency Vermont and Green Mountain Power with doing an excellent job promoting heat pumps and providing attractive rebate incentives.
“Efficiency Vermont’s website is an excellent resource to learn more about rebates as well as finding qualified contractors in your area.”
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