Heat pumps save energy for families


For a long time, there’s been a presumption that getting off fossil fuels was something only the wealthy could accomplish. But that is changing, and there are growing opportunities for lower-income residents to lead the way by making their homes zero carbon via air-source heat pump heating systems and signing up for solar electricity.

The mission of the Finger Lakes Climate Fund (FLCF) run by Sustainable Tompkins is to make sure that nobody is left behind in the transition to a clean energy economy. And one of the best ways to do that is to lower the cost barriers for access to high-efficiency equipment that can be run on renewable energy. The Climate Fund has been doing that since 2010 by giving grants to those who need help making energy improvements.

Together, donors to the Climate Fund have funded 32 awards worth more than $53,000 that will prevent almost 2,500 tons of CO2 from entering our atmosphere. Of course, the benefits to the grant recipients are multiple – safer, healthier, more comfortable homes with lower energy bills. Not to mention the green jobs that are supported locally by making the projects possible.

From 2019-2021, Sustainable Tompkins is partnering with HeatSmart Tompkins and NYSERDA to bring the positive benefits of heat pump technology to low-to-moderate-income (LMI) families throughout our community.

Over the past three years, the ultra-high efficiency of heat pump technology has been funded in over 70% of the Climate Fund grants awarded. But the upfront price of this technology still remains out of reach for many. A two-year grant from NYSERDA will provide funds to combine additional incentives for heat pumps with carbon offset grants to bring down the price and help dozens more families make their home energy clean, green and affordable.

Heat pumps operate just like a refrigerator – but in reverse. Instead of burning a fuel, they simply extract heat out of the air or ground and transfer it via a heat exchanger, where it is compressed to reach the desired temperature for heating a home or to make hot water.

This results in significant energy savings because there isn’t as much work to do to heat the air or water. As a result, a heat pump water heater uses only about one third as much energy for your hot shower. The savings just keep accumulating with each year. A big bonus is that heat pumps can also cool your house in the summer – just by operating in reverse, like your refrigerator.

While funding lasts, Sustainable Tompkins will be offering a substantial additional incentive of $2,000 per air-source heat pump system and $300 per heat pump water heater. This incentive will be combined with a carbon offset grant for the entire work scope of energy improvements being made on the home (such as insulation, air sealing, and replacement of existing equipment).

The size of the grant depends on the amount of carbon that will be kept out of the atmosphere by making the improvements but typically runs between $1,500 and $2,500. For those who are just in need of a new water heater, the carbon offset grant will be standardized at $200 – providing a total of $500 toward the price of a heat pump water heater.

Who qualifies for these incentives from Sustainable Tompkins? Anyone making 80% or less of the county median income for their household size.

How do you apply? Simply enroll at the HeatSmart Tompkins website where you can pick one of the certified contractors and ask that they apply on your behalf to Sustainable Tompkins for the extra incentives. You can also read about the other incentives that everyone gets from NYSERDA and from NYSEG on their site. Applicants from Tompkins County and the adjacent towns of the surrounding counties are invited to apply.

If your water heater is more than a few years old, and you are income qualified, the cost to you for having a heat pump water heater installed will be less than buying a fossil fuel model and having to install it yourself.

The air-source heat pumps are most cost-effective for lower-income residents when they are used to replace propane, fuel oil or electric resistance heating systems.

Sustainable Tompkins has already given out two incentive packages to households in the villages of Spencer and Trumansburg for new heat pump systems and insulation packages, and two more are in the works.

Ready to study up on heat pumps? There’s a wealth of information on the HeatSmart website about this evolving technology that is allowing New Yorkers to make their entire home clean, green, and affordable. Anyone with an aging water heater or a propane, fuel oil, or electric resistance heating system should enroll and get a free energy assessment of what can be done to make your home climate smart. Check it out at HeatSmartTompkins.org/climatefund.

If you have questions about the program that can’t be answered by a HeatSmart contractor, email Marisa@sustainabletompkins.org or leave her a message at 607-272-1720 to find out more.

Gay Nicholson is the president of Sustainable Tompkins, where this article was first published in December of 2019. This is the latest installment of the Signs of Sustainability series produced by Sustainable Tompkins. For more information about the organization, visit their website at SustainableTompkins.org.


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