Heat Pump FOMO?

If you live on Juneau’s Starr Hill, or anywhere between Gastineau Avenue and upper 7th Street, home to some of Juneau’s oldest neighborhoods, and you call the quaint, colorful, steep hillsides near the base of Gold Ridge your home, you may be subject to a serious case of heat pump FOMO. According to the all-knowing internet, FOMO is an emotional response to the belief that other people are living better, more satisfying lives, or that important opportunities are being missed. FOMO often leads to feelings of unease, dissatisfaction, depression and stress.

Here at Alaska Heat Smart, it is our hope that ‘Starr Hill FOMO’ will lead any that find themselves afflicted to add a heat pump to their home’s heating mix. FOMO relief may just be that easy to remedy! A recent ‘Starr Hill heat pump prowl’ revealed a surprising number of heat pumps in Juneau’s 100+ year old neighborhood. If you’re willing to do the heat pump prowl, and brave Starr Hill’s legendary staircases, some pushing 200 steps, you’ll find many of these energy-saving, bill-slashing, emissions-eliminating heat pumps. They’re tucked under stairways, wedged below decks, mounted in back alleys and on the dark and mossy uphill sides of homes. A quick way to locate the more challenging and discreet units is to look for the lineset, the white channel-covered refrigerant connection between the outdoor compressor and the indoor air handler. This white link across the home, or up a wall, can easily be mistaken for a common rain gutter downspout.

Starr Hill heat pump collage

In all, Alaska Heat Smart’s Sunday heat pump prowl discovered 31 different Starr Hill heat pumps. Some were really tucked away, convincing us that there are others to be found. We’ll keep looking as we sort of like the stairs and the associated exercise that comes with the required up and down of the prowl.

Heat pump FOMO is probably not limited to residents of Starr Hill who are yet to acquire a heat pump. It really could strike anyone. If you find need help and would like some professional assistance in understanding just how a heat pump could improve your home heating, reach out to AK Heat Smart and apply for a free home heat pump assessment. You’ll come away educated, empowered, and maybe just a little less ridden with the unease, dissatisfaction, depression and stress that the internet suggests are FOMO’s dark side.

Your Electric Bank Account!

The Inflation Reduction Act is live!

Tax credits available under the August 2022 Inflation Reduction Act are now yours! There are no income limits to block the availability of these credits. If you incur tax liability in 2023, you may be eligible for some of these fantastic financial catalysts for energy efficiency action. And, these credits are not limited to just 2023! Unless something changes at a congressional level, these credits reset every year until 2032. This means that a bit of project planning will be to your benefit. By organizing your energy efficiency home improvement projects, you may be able to take $1,200 in tax credits for a number of years. You cannot carry over any unused credit but you can stagger your expenditures to enable the credits over multiple years.

The Inflation Reduction Act tax credits are like having your own ‘electric bank account’!

Rewiring America

For example, you could upgrade your electrical panel this year to allow for the addition of a heat pump, grabbing the $600 panel credit and the 30% of cost (up to $2,000) heat pump credit. (Note: the 30 percent tax credit up to $600 for an electrical panel upgrade is only an option if the panel upgraded in conjunction with another upgrade, like a heat pump.) Next year, a bit of air sealing and insulation work will allow another $1,200 in tax credit. Maybe the following year you upgrade a door and a couple of windows, netting yet another $1,200 in credit. By working with the annual cap of $1,200, this credit can be applied to numerous cost-saving improvements, saving you thousands of dollars and lowering annual energy costs

Here are some great resources to get you thinking about your home improvements, energy efficiency, and IRA tax credits:

OUR FAVORITE! https://www.rewiringamerica.org/app/ira-calculator

Alaska Heat Smart’s IRA FAQ page

DOE: Making Our Homes More Efficient: Clean Energy Tax Credits for Consumers

https://www.rewiringamerica.org/

https://www.irs.gov/credits-deductions/frequently-asked-questions-about-energy-efficient-home-improvements-and-residential-clean-energy-property-credits-qualifying-residence

https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/2022/12/29/climate-tax-credits-clean-energy/

Upfront Discounts and Energy Efficiency Rebates

These very generous financial incentives will not be available until later into 2023 or even sometime in 2024. These upfront cost discounts differ from tax credits in that your gross household may not exceed designated income caps. While we have not yet seen these final income caps, we assume that they will be similar to those that apply to the Alaska Heat Smart Clean Heat Incentive Program, though the upper limit of the IRA rebates will be a bit more generous.

Alaska Heat Smart is increasingly asked whether or not a homeowner should hold off on a heat pump installation or weatherization upgrades, and choose to hold out for the IRA rebates. This is a personal decision and there are many factors that come into play. How long do you want to wait to start your savings? How imminent is your boiler or furnace failure? Can you go another winter with the systems you currently have? Should you act now and combine existing benefit programs, taking advantage of the rebates one they become available?

If in doubt, be sure to take a look at our existing programs. It is possible to mix and match some of these, allowing you to act now. The combination of a heat pump incentive, a tax credit, and even a low interest heat pump loan can you have you saving in no time.

Stay Warm by Cleaning Your Filter

A clogged air source heat pump filter will cost you in more ways than one!

Gross! This very dirty and neglected indoor unit air filter is crying out for help. If air cannot easily pass through the filter on its way to the heat exchanger, the unit has to work harder and will be far less efficient than you want it to be. Reduced air flow means less heat exchanging, or very simply, less heat. As the unit works harder to pull air through this mess, more energy is used and if we do the math our equation looks like:

dirty grimy filter + more work = higher cost + less heat. A lose-lose situation.

Luckily, a dirty filter is very easy to remedy! We encourage you to read this great post by Building Energy Vermont as it covers all the cleaning details needed to bring your sorry filters back to top notch condition. If you live in a home with pets or carpet you should check your filters at least every two weeks. If your indoor unit is close to your cooking stove, especially if you have an unvented stove, we suggest a weekly check. Dust, combined with greasy stove fumes, can really make a mess of your filter, again, costing your both heat and money. If this reality continues too long, grease and grime will find their way behind your filter and make a more invasive maintenance project necessary.

Consider a deep clean once a year! Some local contractors offer an annual maintenance program that we believe easily pays for itself with improved heat exchanger performance. Ask the contractors listed on our Find an Installer page about their annual service agreements!

Alaska Heat Smart in Sitka!

Alaska Heat Smart (AHS) dips it toes into the waters of Sitka! We’ll soon conduct our first out-of-town heat pump assessment, lay some groundwork for a developing heat pump incentive pilot program, and begin building what we hope is a Sitka home heat pump advisory service.

The Sitka Carbon Offset Fund (SCOF), a project of the Sitka Conservation Society, recently asked AHS to perform a heat pump assessment of the landmark ANB Hall. This will be the first ‘on the ground’ assessment foray for AHS outside of Juneau and we hope that it will be the first of many! While in Sitka, Alaska Heat Smart energy advisor Bob Deering will meet with representatives of the hall, visit with Baranof Island Housing Authority staff, and if time permits, perform one or two additional ‘walk through’ heat pump assessments of homes brought to AHS by our on-the-ground coordinator, SCOF project director, and Southeast Sustainable Partnership catalyst Chandler O’Connell.

The ANB Hall, which opened 108 years ago, is a national historic landmark and according to the National Park Service, the

Alaska Native Brotherhood, Sitka Camp No. 1, is the original chapter of a pan-Alaska Native federation of local camps in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. The Alaska Native Brotherhood was founded in 1912, developing out of the efforts of Tlingit communities fighting bans against Alaska Natives in restaurants and movie theaters. For the first half of the 20th century the Alaska Native Brotherhood was the only such group representing Alaska Natives.

The Alaska Native Brotherhood & Sisterhood was instrumental in fighting racial segregation practices in Alaska and in gaining full U.S. citizenship for Alaska Natives. Today, the Alaska Native Brotherhood & Sisterhood camps are an important force in preserving native heritage.

The Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall in Sitka serves the community as a camp headquarters and is open to the public for social events and community activities.

Alaska Native Brotherhood Sitka Camp No.1 | Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress

The old historic structure is relies heavily on oil for heat and propane for hot water. ANB hall managers hope that the building’s dependence on fossil fuels can be supplanted by heat pumps that draw heat from the surrounding air and power from the waters of Blue Lake. Much more information about the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood is available on their website.

AHS is also excited to announce that discussions are underway with a diverse group of Sitka stakeholders to craft a pilot heat pump incentive program. If successful, roughly 21 lower to modest income Sitka homes could be awarded between $1,500 and $3,000 to assist in the addition of a heat pump to their home. Full details will be forthcoming over the next month or so. Teaming up an incentive of this size with the new ‘up to’ $2,000 Inflation Reduction Act tax credit for heat pump installs puts these projects into no-brainer territory.

Hand in hand with a heat pump incentive program is our foundational heat pump assessment program. In order for an incentive program to be successful AHS relies on a solid home heat pump assessment program. It is vital to ensure that a home not only qualify for a heat pump incentive based on overall income, but also on home readiness. Most homes will see great benefit from the addition of a heat pump – reduced heating costs, reduced emissions, reduced health and environmental risk. In some cases, a home may need other energy efficiency work performed first. Air sealing, insulation, electrical panel upgrades are realities that need to be considered when adding to a home’s energy and heating mix. If a home can be deemed heat pump ready, the benefits of the investment will be a sure bet, resulting in happy homeowners, savings, and slashed emissions. AHS hopes to be able to train an interested SItkan or two to become our newest home heat pump advisors.

There is more to come as AHS works with Sitkans to develop these new programs. Don’t hesitate to let us know your thoughts. You can share them at andy@akheatsmart.org or by phone at (907) 500-5050.

Your Heat Pump and Winter

During our usual snowy and humid winter months, heat pump owners should know the best tips and tricks to make sure their home’s heating system is a top performer.

1. Make sure your external unit doesn’t get buried or confined by snow. 

Your outdoor compressor needs lots of good airflow. This does not just mean behind and on the sides, but also in front. You want the compressor to have access to warmer outdoor air and it needs to be able to move the colder air it produces away as easily as possible. Objects up to ten feet in front of the compressor can cause cold air back flow which will reduce the ability of the unit to extract heat from the ambient air. Check for clearance after any big changes in snowfall and how it accumulates (plowing, shoveling, drifting, roof avalanches). 

2. Watch for ice under your external unit. 

The compressor naturally drips condensate. In winter this can freeze and make a walking hazard depending on the location of the external unit. This ice under the unit is normal and during extended cold spells, it can build up into a mini glacier. This refrozen condensate ice should not present any issues. If it seems to be creeping up along the back or sides of your outdoor unit, it is best to leave it alone and allow the drain pan heater and defrost cycles to keep it in check. In the rarest of situation, ice buildup can cause ground shifting and actually move the compressor. If you see or suspect that this may be occurring, contact your installer as soon as possible.

3. Watch for ice ON your external unit. 

Ice build (not frost) up on the compressor – along the sides, back, and climbing up from the base – is often indicative of a performance issue, such a slow refrigerant leak. If you notice that external unit is icing up (lots of heavy frost) contact your installer immediately or contact one of the contractors here. Waiting too long for a repair can be detrimental to the lifespan of the system. One temporary trick to de-ice your compressor is to run the heat pump in AC mode for 15 – 20 minutes. While this will pump cool air into your home, it will send heat to the compressor and clear it of ice fairly quickly. Still, call a contractor for service – asap.

4. Increase the fan speed for greater heat distribution

Cold outdoor temperatures often require a slightly different approach to using your heat pump. Turning up the temperature a couple of degrees with your remote will help of course. But, so will increasing the fan speed. By upping the fan speed, the heat pump will not only move more air across the indoor heat exchanger, it will push the warmed air further into your home. The AUTO fan setting is best for most occasions, but at night, it can help to run the fan more briskly. The louder fan will do its work while you sleep and you should wake to a warm home. Turn the unit back to AUTO once you are up and about. If you have been lowering the temperature at night, leave it up at your daytime setting.

5. Check and clean the air filter on the interior unit…often. 

Winter is when your system needs its efficiency the most, so be sure it has good airflow. Check the filter at least every two weeks and clean when necessary. The environment of the indoor unit can greatly influence the frequency of needed cleanings. Heat pumps in shops or homes with furry pets, for example, may need their filters cleaned of sawdust or hair much more often.

6. Watch your pipes! 

Especially when you’re enjoying your heat pump in its first winter, check your water pipes when it gets really cold to make sure they don’t start to freeze. Eliminating a boiler, or reducing its use, eliminates waste heat in the boiler room, garage, or other space, often where exposed water pipes tend to live. Keep an eye on them when it gets cold, and take measures to warm them up if necessary (heat tape, extra sources of heat, leave a very tiny trickle of water running). 

7. Watch your hydronic baseboards! 

Just like the situation above, if you still have a boiler for backup heat, make sure that the spaces your baseboard piping are in don’t freeze (baseboards often run around the cold perimeters of houses, so they are particularly vulnerable). Run the system a little, perhaps, just to avoid any risks.

8. Check your system balance and thermostat harmony. 

If you have two different heating systems, make sure that your thermostats are in locations and at settings that will work together, in the most efficient way possible. If you have a heat pump in your main living space and a different kind of heat in your other rooms, you want your heat pump to turn on first and produce as much efficient heat as it can before the other systems turn on (especially in homes with forced air, where the backup system is otherwise heating the same space as the heat pump).  Make sure that other system does turn on, though, or back rooms may get too cold. If the thermostat for the back bedrooms is in the same room as the heat pump, it will never click on because it’s always nice and warm. Consider moving this thermostat to a more isolated location. An electrician can do this for around $200. You’ll recoup this savings in no time by allowing your heat pump to take on more of the home’s heating load.

9. Check your thermostat setbacks. 

You don’t want a ton of variation (“set it and forget it”), but our own experiments show that some amount of nighttime setback is beneficial in creating even more cost savings. Don’t overdo it though. Especially during cold winter periods! The heat pump will take longer to warm your home than your old oil system did. It is best to keep the temperature as steady as you can. A couple of degrees cooler at night is the most you should set the heat pump back.

Home Energy & Heat Pump Classes!

Energy auditor and renewable energy specialist Chandler Kemp, Assistant Professor of Sustainable Energy at the UA Dillingham campus, is offering two new online classes! These great classes start Tuesday, September 20 and Thursday, September 22 so time is running out!

These online class runs for four or five weeks, meet one evening per week, and offer one continuing education credit each! See pdf flyers below and download each class syllabus for full information!

Tuition for these great classes is free and you can register for the classes online HERE!

Heat Pump Loan Cap Raised!

2022 may just be Juneau’s ‘Year of the Heat Pump’! It seems that everybody’s doing it. The word is out that heat pumps will save you money, heat your home nearly all year long, provide air conditioning, keep your home heating local, eliminate oil hazards, and shrink your carbon footprint in one of the most impactful ways possible.

Demand for both heat pumps and the contractors to install them is at an all-time high! If you are ready to move on a heat pump, yet you’re finding that cash flow is an issue, our Heat Smart – True North FCU (TNFCU) heat pump loan may just be the solution for you. The hurdle of high up front initial costs is a common stumbling block for many and this loan is one of our tools that can help you make the leap.

In response to local demand for heat pumps atop a surge in interest to move away from fossil fuel heating, Alaska Heat Smart has been busy creating new programs to make it easier for ALL Juneau residents to benefit from heat pumps’ money-saving and climate-friendly benefits. Following on the heels of our wildly popular free home heat pump assessment program, we are making headway on the development of our lower income Healthy Homes program and our modest income Home Heat Pump Incentive Program.

Our traditional loan program has been up and running for more than a year now. We’ve often been asked if the loan cap could be raised from it’s starting cap of $7,500. Complex or multi-head heat pump systems are often quoted from $8,500 to close to $30,000. Alaska Heat Smart is happy to announce a new loan cap of $12,500! If you have good credit and a solid debt to income ratio, this loan could be yours.

If granted $12,500 at 4%, the lowest rate offered on this loan by TNFCU, you’ll free up cash flow and start saving money immediately!

Interest payments over 5 years for a $12,500 heat pump loan at 4% interest would average just under $22 per month! With the average Juneau heat pump installation saving a homeowner over $1,200 annually, despite paying interest, there would still be a $78 average monthly savings over the course of a year!

And, if you need a smaller loan, interest payments will be even lower and your savings that much higher!

Learn more about our home heat pump loan today!

Local group has $2 million for home energy upgrades | Juneau Empire

You can put your name on our waitlist HERE! And, if you know others who may be interested, please, share our information with them! We hope to have our Healthy Homes program up and running by late July.

The Healthy Homes program is designed to provide a range of upgrades to low-income homes, according to Andy Romanoff, Alaska Heat Smart’s executive director and a member of Renewable Juneau, and the group has decided to use the funds from an energy-efficiency approach.

“The program isn’t intended to just install heat pumps, it’s a whole home remediation program,” Romanoff said. “Heat pumps are just a component of what that home will receive.”

HUD places a limit on how much can be spent per home, Romanoff said, which in this case is about $15,000, but with Alaska’s higher costs that means Alaska Heat Smart will be able to upgrade fewer homes than would be possible in the Lower 48. Alaska Heat Smart hopes to provide upgrades to 90 homes, Romanoff said. Additional upgrades include installing certain kinds of insulation, mold and moisture removal and the removal of toxic substances.

Local group has $2 million for home energy upgrades | Juneau Empire

Local group has $2 million for home energy upgrades | Juneau Empire

Top Down Support for a Common Sense Approach

Good news on the heat pump front. THIS inspiring news regarding new federal attention being paid to heat pumps could be a game changer!

The HEATR Act

With 4 million heat pumps installed in the US in 2021, yet 6 million AC units installed in the same period, the Senate’s HEATR Act, introduced recently, looks to incentivize the adoption of heat pumps. As we know, these amazing devices provide both the benefits of heating and cooling.

A key provision in the recently introduced HEATR Act encourages manufacturers to convert their whole supply of traditional central ACs — which can only cool — into devices that both heat homes and cool them: heat pumps. Sponsored by Democratic Senators Klobuchar, Smith, Hickenlooper, Whitehouse, Leahy, Merkley and Booker, the bill has the potential to transform American climate control.

Two-way heat pumps have a few important advantages over both one-way air conditioners and traditional heat sources. They tend to be two to four times more efficient than competing devices, which means they result in comparable or lower energy bills for most families. By taking over from other heat sources such as gas, oil and wood, heat pumps can dramatically reduce indoor air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Even homes in Florida, which have only a handful of heating days each year, can benefit.

Read the full Canary Media story, A New Bill Could Speed up American Electrification by 20 Years, HERE.

Incentives NOW in southeast Alaska!

If you are currently an Alaska Power and Telephone (APT) customer (Prince of Wales Island, Haines, Skagway and Gustavus), a heat pump incentive exists for you right now! APT offers both a heat pump cash incentive as well as an electric vehicle incentive. Learn more about your potential eligibility for APT’s $500 incentive here! And, if you are a Sealaska shareholder in addition to an APT customer, Sealaska will double the incentive by kicking in an additional $500. You can learn about that additional bonus here!

Alaska Heat Smart is currently in the early design stages of an additional incentive program that will target income-qualified Juneau heat pump adopters. We hope to roll out our program this coming fall with incentives of up to nearly 50% off the cost of a heat pump and its installation.