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Heat pump mythbusters


Heat Pumps can save you money and help save the planet. But there’s a lot of misinformation out there about them.

That’s not good in Columbia County, where we have to rely on efficient heating to get us through the winter.

Heat pumps are based on the science of moving heat from one place to another. A heat pump pulls heat from the air outside your home—even when it’s cold—and moves it inside. It’s like an air conditioner that works as a heater in the winter by just reversing the process. In cooler months, a heat pump pulls heat from the cold outdoor air and transfers it indoors, and in warmer months, it pulls heat out of the warm indoor air and cools your home. When you buy a heat pump, you get an air conditioner for free.

What have you heard about heat pumps?

Somewhere you may have read that heat pumps make your heating more susceptible to power failures. That would seem to make sense. If the grid goes down, where will the power come to heat your home? Of course, when the grid crashes, your boiler won’t do much good either, and you’ll be just as cold. But what if the temperature falls well below freezing? You can find posts on the internet maintaining that your boiler will work, but your heat pump won’t. That hasn’t been true for more than a decade. Cold-climate heat pumps operate down to -19. Fahrenheit. In Columbia County (Climate Zone 5) heat pumps will perform efficiently in any home that is adequately insulated. If the people of Montreal, Norway, and Iceland are using heat pumps, we can surely use them here. Thousands of homes and buildings across every region of New York already enjoy this kind of heating. You don’t have to take my word for it. Ask someone who actually has one. They’ll tell you the truth based on their own experience.

What about energy costs? You may have heard that a heat pump will fatten your electric bill, that heat pumps are more expensive because electricity costs more than gas. Here’s what you may not have heard. Heat pumps are two to four times more efficient than fossil fuel heating. In other words, because heat pumps move heat rather than generating it, heat pumps consume three times less energy to produce the same quantity of heat.

What about installation costs? There are utility rebates and federal tax credits which make heat pumps cost competitive. Starting next year, low-to-moderate income households will be eligible for New York State Energy Resource and Development Authority (NYSERDA) grants to cover most of the cost. Over time, heat pumps offer significant savings due to their high efficiency and low operating costs. For the more than two-thirds of households here in Columbia County that still heat with oil or propane, heat pumps can yield dramatic cost savings. And as heat pumps become the standard equipment the upfront price is projected to come way down.

Keep in mind is that your fossil fuel heating bill doesn’t tell the whole story: what’s hidden are the environmental costs from the release of air pollutants and greenhouse gases. How much will we have to pay from our tax dollars to repair the inevitable damage from flooding, fires, and hurricanes?

And for those who argue that New York’s electric grid isn’t up to the task, New York’s existing electric grid has in fact excess capacity in the winter, which is projected to continue until at least 2035 while at the same time, the state will be adding renewable generation.

Why would anybody want to knock heat pumps? As always, follow the money. Look who’s behind the misinformation: the fossil fuel industry.

David Grubin is an award winning documentary filmmaker. He resides in Hillsdale.

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