Heat Pumps: An Environmentally Friendly Way to Heat (And Cool) Your Homes

Green Tips | November 20, 2023

By Peter Aronson

Trying to achieve New York State’s goal of achieving a zero-carbon emission electrical grid by 2040 is a lot like piecing together a complex puzzle: We need drastic increases in off-shore wind, solar and hydro-electric power. We need many more EVs on the road. And, among other changes, we need more homeowners and businesses to install heat pumps to heat and cool their buildings, offices and homes.

Sales figures across the state, and across the country, are increasing drastically, but Gov. Kathy Hochul, the New York League of Conservation Voters (NYLCV) and environmental advocates across the board are calling on building owners to ramp it up much more. It’s a crucial piece in our efforts to thwart global warming.

In New York City, two-thirds of the carbon pollution comes from buildings. In New York State, it’s one third, the largest polluting sector.

Heat pumps are confusingly misnamed, because they can heat your home in the winter and cool your home in the summer. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) operates a wonderfully detailed website that explains heat pumps from A to Z, from the types and costs to how and where to find a contractor.

As explained by NYSERDA, heat pumps, which run on electricity, work by extracting heat from the air, ground or water and transferring it inside a building for heating and, in warmer months, reversing the air flow and then using a refrigerant on return to cool the air going into the home. Since heat pumps transfer heat, rather than generate it through the use of greenhouse gas emitting boilers, furnaces and electric heaters, they reduce the carbon footprint. And the more electricity to power the heat pumps that is produced by solar, wind and hydro, the footprint decreases even more.

There are three types of heat pumps: Geothermal, air source and water heated, with the first two the best for colder climates across New York State. For detailed info about the differences and what types of homes and buildings they are best suited for, see cleanheat.ny.gov.

According to NYSERDA, heat pumps are considerably more energy efficient than the traditional greenhouse gas producing systems most people now use.

“Compared to oil-fuel systems, ground source heat pumps are three times more efficient, while air source heat pumps can reach up to 50 percent greater efficiency,” NYSERDA states. 

In Finland, Sweden and Norway, heat pump use over the past 30 years contributed to reducing carbon emissions by approximately 80 percent in the three Nordic countries, according to a detailed article at carbonbrief.org

 In an announcement in September, Gov. Hochul said New York State had joined with the U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition of 25 environmentally-conscious governors, to announce a goal of 20 million heat-pump installations across the coalition states by 2030. This would involve quadrupling the number of heat pumps installed in New York State during this same period.

According to NYSERDA, 29,000 heat pump projects were installed in the state in 2022, a 37 percent increase from 2021. Nationwide, Americans bought more than 4.3 million heat pump units in 2022, an approximate 10 percent increase from 2021’s 3.9 million units. 

Two big consumer issues hover over the potential purchase of heat pumps. First, the cost, and second, whether the pumps can adequately heat buildings and homes in New York State, particularly up north, where winters are particularly cold.

Let’s tackle the first question: cost.

The answer: it depends. It depends on what type of heat pump system you purchase and where the building is located. Obviously, the size of the home or the building is a significant factor as well. There are considerable rebates offered from the state and federal government, the latter through the historic Inflation Reduction Act.

According to multiple sources, heat pumps for homes can range in price from several thousand to more than $40,000. But with the tax rebates, the price can drop considerably.

NYLCV outlines IRA rebates and tax incentives for all types of clean energy sources, including heat pumps, for which homeowners could get as much as a $2,000 federal tax rebate. On the state level, it is much more complicated, with factors being where you live to how much money you earn. But the tax incentives are considerable.

NYSERDA’s website allows a consumer to input their address, the type of home and approximate year it was built and it will provide you with several estimates of rebates, depending on the type of heat pump you purchase. 

For example, when searching the rebates for a hypothetical four-bedroom, 2,500-square foot home, built between 2000 and 2010 in Westchester County, this answer came up:

When installing a ground source heat pump system through a NYS Clean Heat participating contractor, Con Edison will cover $25,000 of the installation cost, or $35,000 if your home is in a Disadvantaged Community. These savings will be deducted directly from the installation cost, so you won’t wait for a rebate check.

Of course to actually determine the full extent of a potential state tax rebate, a consumer will need to speak with companies that sell and install the heat pumps. It is advisable to speak with several contractors about your heating and cooling needs and the costs before making a decision which company to use. Through NYSERDA, consumers can search online for names of state-approved contractors.  

For more information about costs, please see these articles at Forbes.com and at Syracuse.com.

The second crucial question is whether heat pumps successfully heat homes and buildings in extreme cold? The answer seems to be yes. Exhibit A is the Nordic region of Europe, comprising Sweden, Finland and Norway. The three countries are the coldest countries in Europe and are the world leaders in heat pump use, with 40 percent of the households using them.

The article at carbonbrief.org analyzes extensively the use of heat pumps in that region and determines that modern heat pumps successfully heat buildings in extremely cold environments. 

The article in Syracuse.com also tackles this question, stating: “Can pricey electric heat pumps really keep home warm in our frigid winters? The answer – according to several people who own them and others who have studied their performance – is yes. A new breed of ‘cold climate’ air-source heat pump is a valid, energy-efficient heating option in Upstate New York.”

The state also provides information on this question here.

For business owners, an excellent source is heatsmartcny.org. The website will help you find an appropriate contractor, provide rebate info and show off a little, listing more than 30 commercial buildings or locations around the state that have installed heat pumps, from SUNY campuses to Syracuse University, to a town library, a town hall and a pizzeria, to a nature center, a food bank and a hotel.   

NYSERDA can be your go-to source for comprehensive info about heat pumps and whether it’s a good option for your home or business. We encourage all homeowners and businesses to take a look.

Homeowners can start with a free home assessment. To schedule one, ??go here.  

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