Don’t Neglect Your Heat Pump Compressor!

It’s easy to forget about your heat pump when temps climb into the 70s, but early summer is an important time to show your heat pump’s compressor a bit of love! We suspect that your heat exchanger fins are gunking up!

You may have noticed ‘willow snow’ floating around our air recently. Willow trees across southeast are shedding their seeds, sending the tiny reproductive packets on their way with the aid of what I like to call willow snow, that bit of cottony fluff that catches any bit of wind and takes the seeds to their prospective new homes. While this is an impressive and ingenious seed dispersal method, these seeds and associated fluff are great at gumming up our outdoor heat pump compressors. And, once the willows are through, fireweed seeds will fly close behind!

As your heat pump compressor pulls air across its heat exchanging fins, willow and fireweed fluff, along with grass, flies, and any other air-transported material, will accumulate on the fins. This material works to block both air transport and the heat exchanging process, decreasing the unit’s efficiency. In short, operating costs go up and performance, i.e. the ability to heat or cool, goes down.

My heat pump compressor is fairly well removed from trees and plants, yet the middle two photos above show its condition this morning. It’s not horrible, like the internet-grabbed image on the far left, but it could be better and it will just worsen as summer progresses. It’s time for a cleaning!

Some local heat pump contractors offer an annual maintenance service, a process well worth the small fee, considering what you have invested in your heat pump. Call around to see who is available to do this important maintenance work. A few times each summer I take care of the easiest part of the cleaning process myself. If you choose to clean the fins on your own, BE CAREFUL! The heat exchanger fins are extremely fragile and can bend easily. While bent fins can be straightened, a special ‘comb’ is needed and a contractor may be best suited to take care of this detail.

I use a vacuum cleaner with a long hose and a very soft brush attachment. If you look closely at the fins, you’ll see that they run vertically, top to bottom. If you work side to side, you will bend the fins. Very slowly, I run the brush from the bottom to the top, pressing very lightly to draw up as much material as I can. Working gently may mean that a few passes are needed. The results won’t be perfect, but the fins should be much cleaner than when you started. The left side of the compressor fin array is blocked by a screen of sorts, attached with a few screws. In the images above, this is the third image from left. I take this off and work the vacuum gently up or down these fins, putting the screen back in place when done.

And that’s it! There are other parts of the compressor that should be cleaned as well, but if you just want to get rid of the bulk of the mess, carefully using a vacuum and soft brush attachment can do the trick.

Community Energy Efficiency Campaign Guidebook LIVE!

Months in the works, the Thermalize Juneau ‘how-to’ guidebook, “Thermalize Your Rural Community: How to Bring Clean Energy & Energy Efficiency to Your Community’s Doorstep” is now live. This tremendous body of work, made possible by the superhuman efforts of Alaska’s Information Insights, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and Alaska Heat Smart, is THE blueprint to instruct any community on building a community-based energy efficiency campaign.

The Thermalize Juneau StoryMap guidebook has been designed to be interactive, engaging, informative, and fun! It is built to provide assistance to community leaders in small, rural locations to promote beneficial electrification through wide-scale adoption of energy-efficient technologies for homes and businesses. The guidebook details all stages of a thermalize campaign for rural cold-climate communities, from early planning to program evaluation. The tools, forms, and lessons that came out of the Thermalize Juneau 2021 campaign are linked for easy download throughout the StoryMap. A full list of resources, which includes outreach materials, heat pump specs, requests for proposals, surveys, reports, and more can be found in the Resources section.

This guide offers many best practices and recommendations from our own experience in setting up a campaign of this kind in a rural, isolated community. There is no single way to start on the path to beneficial electrification or to organize and implement a thermalize campaign. Our guidebook seeks to connect residents, leaders, organizers, and energy enthusiasts with Thermalize Juneau’s campaign resources and experiences so that they may design an approach that aligns with their opportunities and nee

Get started today with Thermalize Your Rural Community. We’d love to hear from you! Send is your thoughts, questions, takeaways, impressions. You’ll find other Thermalize Juneau resources on our Thermalize page.

Save money with incentives for home heating and efficiency!

The Juneau Empire covers Alaska Heat Smart’s most popular money-saving home heating programs!

Heat Smart heat pump program story in Juneau Empire

In short, there really has never been a better time to add a heat pump to your home. Alaska Heat Smart can connect you to low-interest traditional financing, provide a financial incentive of up to $3,000 towards your heat pump purchase, or offer up to $15,000 in funds to improve your home’s heating, air sealing, and safety. Alaska Heat Smart can guide you along your pathway to clean and affordable renewable energy heating with a free home heat pump assessment.

ADVICE: How to Buy a Heat Pump for your Home

…thanks to an unprecedented flood of rebates and incentives from local, state and federal governments, they’ve never been this affordable…

How to buy a heat pump for your home – The Washington Post

This clear and concise article from the Washington Post (you should be able to view three articles for free without a subscription) lays out a logical process for planning a home heating switch to a heat pump.

  1. Assess your home’s present heating system condition and plan ahead for replacement
  2. Explore your home’s state of efficiency, looking at insulation, air sealing, as well as electrical capacity
  3. Look into potential system costs, paying attention to numerous available incentives, credits, traditional financing options
  4. Find a contractor and how to choose one

While this list may be easy for some to explore and achieve, many of us just aren’t all that comfortable looking at our home’s in these ways. Luckily, Alaska Heat Smart offers free advisory services to help you answer these questions and gain a better understanding of the interplay of your home and its heating systems. Every home is unique and there is no true one size fits all solution. While we at Heat Smart have learned that nearly every home can benefit from the addition of a heat pump, the specifics are important and ‘getting it right’ cannot be understated. Apply for a free home heat pump assessment to start your path to savings and carbon-free heating! And, check out our assistance programs that can help slash the cost of your switch to a heat pump!

But wait, there’s more!

Alaska Heat Smart has ‘made the news’ recently in three related stories about heat pumps and their ability to function in cold climates. You’ll be happy to know that yes, heat pumps really do move an abundance of heat when temps drop! Yesterday it was 12 degrees on my deck and my home was a toasty 70 degrees. And, I spent $3.40 yesterday to heat 1450 square feet over two stories.

Heat Pumps Sell Like Hotcakes on America’s Oil-Rich Frontier | WIRED

An Alaska-centric heat pump update, covering the surge in interest spanning the state, from Fairbanks, to Anchorage, Juneau, and Sitka!

When she (Genevieve Gagne-Hawes, a resident of Alaska’s capital) received a bill of almost $900 last March for heating her home during the winter months, she decided to find an alternative. Gagne-Hawes decided to install an air source heat pump. “I expected it to be fine but it’s been spectacular,” says Gagne-Hawes. She says the heat pump is saving her roughly $100 a month.

Heat Pumps Sell Like Hotcakes on America’s Oil-Rich Frontier | WIRED

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 you 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 associated with FOMO’s dark side.

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 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.