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.

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.

$300 Federal Tax Credit for Heat Pumps

It’s not too late to claim your $300 tax credit if you installed an air source heat pump in 2021!

IRS form 5695 is the one you’re after. Look down to line 22A on page 2 of the form for the proper place to write in $300. Full form instructions and a link to both forms can be found on our website’s ‘Financing and Incentives‘ page under the ‘For Home’ menu tab. The first and second links under ‘Grants, Tax Credits, and Other Incentives’ will take you to the proper IRS page where you can download both forms.

If you are one of the many who now file online with Turbo Tax, here is a page with detailed instructions on how to enter the $300 credit when filing.

Resilient Peoples Place: Energy independence is both a destination and a journey

Air source heat pumps for Southeast Alaskans.

Clay Good, Regional Energy Catalyst for the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, STEM Educator for the Renewable Energy Alaska Project, and Renewable Juneau board member offers us this wonderful update, in the 3.23.22 Juneau Empire, on the rapidly growing rural hydropower sector of southeast Alaska and how it will benefit the lives of those who use it.

While the largest population centers in the region enjoy the benefits of hydroelectricity, the smallest communities and villages continue to struggle with high energy costs as they work to free themselves from the grip of expensive and volatile diesel energy. That’s why more small Southeast communities are stepping up to the challenge, finding new ways to bring renewable options to town. And as hydropower increases regionally, additional renewable electrical energy creates opportunities for homeowners and communities to enjoy the many benefits clean energy provides.

Clay not only covers hydropower trends across rural southeast Alaska, but details how this clean, fish-friendly, local energy can save homeowners money, improve the quality of the air that they breathe, and keep dollars flowing in local economies. He goes on to offer solutions and sources of additional information, from non profit heat pump advisory services like our, to carbon offset solutions, as well as heat pump incentive programs.

Where can I get helpful information, incentives, or assistance? It’s not always easy for cash strapped homeowners to come up with several thousand dollars so they can get started saving energy and money. Additionally, because ASHP’s are an emerging market in Alaska, not every community will have sale and installation businesses readily available. Plus, it can be complicated to have an ASHP installed due to the need to coordinate various electricians, contractors and ASHP installers. Fortunately, there are excellent programs in Southeast designed to assist homeowners who are considering making the switch to an ASHP with technical and financial assistance.

Read the full story here!