By Jonathan Comstock
Residents across Tompkins County are discovering that they can make their homes more comfortable year round while simultaneously doing their part to reduce the world-wide-waste, pollution, and climate change impacts associated with fossil fuel based energy use.
How is this accomplished? Through electric heat pump systems. Heat pumps use electricity to move heat from one place to another, and are used for heating in the winter and cooling in the summer. Heat pump systems may sound confusing, but that’s where HeatSmart, a program of Solar Tompkins, plays a role in helping homeowners sort through the many choices available for home energy efficiency improvements.
“We enrolled in the HeatSmart program primarily because we were looking for a more energy efficient heating system, and also we were attracted to the idea that the air source heat pump system offered air conditioning in the summer, particularly with the summers getting warmer than they used to be,” said Charlie and Cathy Woodcock, 2015 HeatSmart program participants. “The units don’t make much sound, they’re quiet.”
What HeatSmart does is make the pathway towards a zero-carbon-emission goal safer, smoother, easier and more fun. This is done by providing simple easy-to-understand information about the technologies, by vetting installers that you can have confidence and by negotiating low prices in advance. HeatSmart provides an easy, effective pathway that starts with a free, no-obligations assessment of your home from improving its insulating layers to taming the beasts in the basement.
While air sealing and insulating along with replacing ancient furnaces with heat pumps doesn’t have quite the sex-appeal of solar arrays or new electric cars, it is of equal value to your own pocket book and the sustainability of our planet. It turns out the home heating system itself requires the most energy to run, but few home-owners realize the opportunities there. In Tompkins County home heating, cooling, and hot water heating accounts for 75 percent of the average home energy footprint. A well-sealed and insulated home outfitted with a heat pump system can lead to substantial improvements in comfort and health, and save you money.
These heat pump systems using refrigeration technology can keep homes warm in winter, cool in summer, air conditioned, and humidity controlled. They are the cleanest form of heating you can choose, because they are super-efficient. Heat pumps don’t squander the energy you pay for by just converting it straight to heat like a space heater that glows red-hot on the electricity it is devouring. And they don’t waste the energy content of fuels by burning them up. Instead, they capture energy from the outside air or the ground through refrigeration cycles, and get 2.5 to 3.5 times the heat delivered into your house than was used up in electric energy. That’s what we mean by super-efficiency, and no other mode of heating can compare. Heat pumps have the lowest operating costs of any of your heating choices. People like them. Check out HeatSmart at www.SolarTompkins.org for testimonial videos and more information.
There are HeatSmart community meetings going on all over Tompkins County through March and to the end of April. There are three this week, all 6:30-8:30 pm, at the Lansing Town Hall on Tuesday, March 28; Enfield Grange Hall on Wednesday, March 29; and DeWitt Middle School on Thursday, March 30.
Seven more are scattered through the month of April, check www.solarTompkins.org for the full schedule.
Other great resources are the HeatSmart community tours. Homeowners who went through the HeatSmart program last year are inviting you into their homes to see how the new heating systems fit into their lifestyles and their household budgets. They will also tell you about the experience of having the work done. Again, the schedule of tours is available online at www.SolarTompkins.org.
HeatSmart is a locally grown non-profit, led by local volunteers, that exists simply to empower individual action throughout the community.
“The energy for making change must come from the citizens,” said Marie McRae, a farmer in Dryden and an active Solar Tompkins volunteer. “We are the change. We are the revolution.”
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This is the latest installment of Signs of Sustainability, produced by Sustainable Tompkins. To learn more, visit its website at SustainableTompkins.org. Jonathan Comstock is the program director of HeatSmart, a program of Solar Tompkins.