Thermalize Juneau Participant FAQ

Thermalize Campaign Logistics

What is the solarize model?

In a solarize or thermalize model, we harness the power and efficiencies of collective bargaining.  If we have a group of households who all want heat pumps, we should be able to negotiate better prices for equipment and installation than if we all went it alone.  The suppliers get to make a larger sale, and installers don’t have to look for each job on its own, we have a pool of homes ready to go.

When is the expected kick off for this program and do you have a minimum amount of participants to start?

Registration is happening now! We expect it to go through April but better to register sooner rather than later. There will be no minimum number of participants. It’s Alaska’s first thermalize campaign, so we hope however many people end up joining will help inform future campaigns in cold climates

What is the cap – maximum number of participants?

While more participants may initially sign up for more information and heat pump assessments, we expect to cap the energy audits and those completing the program at around 200 registrants. This is due to our desire to ensure a mostly smooth campaign (it is Alaska’s first thermalize campaign after all) for everyone. It also is because staff time for this campaign is being funded by generous grants from the City and Borough of Juneau and the Department of Energy and 150 is the maximum number of registrants we expect to be able to fully process with that funding. For comparison, approximately 70 people installed solar panels through the 2020 Solarize Fairbanks campaign, after several hundred expressed interest, and Solarize Anchorage campaigns, which have been organized by neighborhood, have resulted in a range of 5 to 74 installations.

Are bulk purchases including all of Juneau or by neighborhood?

The bulk purchase would include all participants in Juneau. Unlike the solarize campaigns in Anchorage and Fairbanks that have occurred, this Thermalize campaign would not break out by neighborhood or other groups.

What criteria will you be using for the free assessment and for those that get the reduced costs for the install?

The first step will be for interested participants to sign up via a registration form on our website, tentatively available before the end of January. Those that can complete the form and provide access to energy bills will be eligible for the free assessment. As the program continues, Thermalize Juneau will issue an RFP for heat pump installers and energy efficiency contractors. All participants who have completed the assessment and would like to continue with the program will be able to work with the installer and/or contractor selected to get a personalized quote for a reduced price installation and/or retrofit.

If you sign up are you committed to installation? 

No! Participants will go through the thermalize program and have the opportunity to learn more about heat pumps and energy efficiency. They will get a free heat pump assessment and be eligible for an energy audit as well. Those that feel that a heat pump is right for them will get a personalized quote from an installer and only at that time will they decide if they want to sign a contract with an installer and commit to an installation.

Do you have intentions to repeat this effort in the future after you work through the Thermalize program this year?

Yes, we hope to learn from this one and organize future programs! But like everything else, that will depend on future funding for Alaska Heat Smart. Our base funding is from the City and Borough of Juneau, and supplemental funding for this Thermalize program has come via a Department of Energy grant.

Electrical Concerns

What is AEL&P’s capacity to provide electricity with their given infrastructure if there is widespread transition from oil heaters and gasoline/diesel vehicles to electric heaters and electric vehicles? Will new infrastructure be required for AEL&P to meet such an increase in demand?

Hundreds of heat pumps have been installed in Juneau in recent years, and those installations have yet to result in a noticeable change in annual energy sales or peak demand.  This can be for a number of reasons, like general electric efficiency measures being installed, or because some heat pump installations offset electric resistance heat, which lowers demand for electricity.  AEL&P hopes that heat pump installations will continue to be installed to replace electric resistance heat, which will help make energy and capacity for heat pump installations that replace oil heat.  Eventually, a community-wide shift from oil heat to heat pumps and petroleum powered vehicles to electric vehicles will require new electric infrastructure.  That will include new renewable and standby generation resources, new transmission and distribution lines, and new substation equipment.  

Please give a quick rundown of implementation with AEL&P HP rates for participants.

AEL&P has a Residential Heat Pump Rate Schedule (HP Rate) available to residential customers. This rate schedule is a demand rate schedule, which means there are three primary components to the bill. The HP Rate includes the two primary billing components that make up the General Residential Rate Schedule, the Customer Charge and the Energy Charge, and the HP Rate also includes a Demand Charge. The Demand Charge is based on the 15 minutes during the billing period during which you use the most energy – the period when your power consumption was the highest over a 15 minute window. Because the HP Rate has a much lower Energy Charge than the General Residential Rate, someone on the HP Rate can save money by using a low level of power very evenly over the billing period.  However, if someone uses energy and power with big spikes, they may wind up paying more than if they were billed on the General Residential Rate.  The HP Rate also requires that no permanently-wired electric resistance heat is available on the service.  Additional questions should be directed to AEL&P.  

If I install a heat pump, do I need a whole home surge protection device?

Regardless as to whether you install a heat pump in your home, a whole home surge protection device is a good way to safeguard your home’s electrical system and appliances. Installing such a device is outside the scope of Alaska Heat Smart’s Thermalize program, but the AEL&P website contains two examples of ways you can purchase the appropriate equipment and have it installed (AEL&P will install it for free if you purchase it).

Heat Pump Economics

About how much less will the heat pump be on the bulk purchase? 

The short answer is: we don’t know. In solarize and thermalize campaigns, a group of participating homeowners and building owners say they are interested in installing a particular technology. In this case, Alaska Heat Smart will issue an RFP for installers and pursue bulk discounts once they have an idea of the number of participating buildings. It won’t be until installers respond to this RFP that we will know the exact discount. However, we can look to other campaigns to see what types of discounts might be expected. On average, Solarize campaigns across the US have realized a 20% discount on price per watt for solar PV systems.The recent Solarize campaigns in Fairbanks and Anchorage also achieved discounts ranging from 10% to 25% depending on the neighborhood and installer. And the Juneau Carbon Offset Fund recently was able to achieve a 25% discount on a bulk heat pump purchase, as well as a savings on shipping costs.

Are there any local CBJ incentives on the horizon moving forward to get more interested?


Nothing is in sight right now, but Alaska Heat Smart is exploring on-bill financing by the CBJ which could make heat pumps more affordable by more people. Our heat pump information and assessments are largely funded by the CBJ.

What is the type of heat pump unit that will be part of the bulk buy and what is the estimated cost range for that unit?

Currently, we have not yet determined the make and model of the heat pump. However, it will be a single head ductless heat pump (not a central air unit or a ground source heat pump). Cost range can be as low as $4,000 for a single head unit and up from there.

Does a $5K price tag for a standard ductless single head heat pump include labor?

It does include labor and electrical work for a single head ductless heat pump in the average house. Bear in mind that each house is different, and costs will vary.

I have heard of a specific loan for this kind of system, does it include installation costs?

See various loans for heat pumps and energy efficiency retrofits on our financing and incentives page. You are also welcome to call or email us with any questions you have.

Are ASHP’s seeing the same drastic reductions in cost that can be seen in Solar Arrays over the past 10 years? 

The cost of solar power per kWh has decreased by orders of magnitude over the last 50 years. Though not quite as spectacular, the cost of heat pumps has also decreased over time, and the technology has also improved. Among the biggest developments in the market is that some of the world leaders in heat pump manufacturing have started to produce them in the US. Daikin, to pick just one example, built a nearly half-billion-dollar manufacturing and distribution plant in Texas in 2017. Not having to import the units in big-enough but still too-small-to-really-drop-the-price batches has significantly improved both costs and availability.

What’s included in the bulk purchase?

Do you expect any sort of bulk deals to have electrical service upgraded to allow for the new heat pumps?


That will depend on the installer(s) and how they respond to the RFP. In solarize campaigns, electrical upgrades are not typically included as part of the volume discount (bulk purchase). 

Is it possible for me to only purchase a heat pump unit in the thermalize program and install it with a friend who is a heating and air-conditioning installer?

That will be up to the installer. AHS is not planning to bulk purchase and sell heat pumps. 

Eligibility

Is this available for nonprofits, and are there any grant or other funding sources specifically for them?

Yes, nonprofits are eligible to register. We do not have grants or funding sources specifically aimed at nonprofits, but you are welcome to check our financing and incentives page for options that might work for you.

Will this program be available for new construction?

Yes. People planning new construction are eligible to register for the program if their construction timeline coincides with thermalize installations in summer 2021.

Can someone who has already bought the equipment get a deal on the install costs by joining in?

Potentially. During the negotiation process with installers, we will ask about whether these kinds of scenarios can be included in the discounted labor cost. 

Does this program apply to folks who are interested in ground source heat pumps?

Ground source heat pumps are a great option. But unfortunately they are not a part of this first thermalize campaign. You are welcome to contact Alaska Heat Smart for more information on ground source heat pumps or an assessment on how they can work for you at any time though. Note that they are very costly (typically used for institutions and public buildings), to the point that their economics just don’t work (on a household level, the operational savings just don’t make up for the installation cost).  We tend to suggest these homes go with electric heat for their radiant floors or forced air, and install an air-to-air heat pump in their main living space to take the edge off the bills.

Heat pump questions

What is the difference between single head and double head systems?

Minisplit heat pumps have an outdoor compressor and a varying number of indoor heating units (or ‘heads’) working off the outdoor unit. A single head system has 1 indoor unit, and a double head unit would have one outdoor unit and two interior units.

How easy is it to add additional heads later on?

Adding additional heads to the external compressor unit later on is about as simple as it would have been installing them in the first place, so long as the compressor was ordered with extra ports for those additional heads at the start. It is not simple or efficient to add ports to a compressor after the fact, to the point you’re better off just buying a new compressor. If adding heads is the plan, ensure from the beginning that: the compressor has the extra ports, is located within range of the likely future heating heads (usually around 30 feet), and is sized to operate all the heads that could eventually be hooked to it. Addition of more heating heads involves complex and sensitive procedures, and should be done by a licensed professional.

Do you have any data on the longevity of the system?

From manufacturer estimates, systems can last 13 – 15 years. That’s about the same as other heating systems, such as an oil-fired boiler.  With care, it would not be surprising if they lasted a few more years beyond that.  Warranties tend to be in the 10-year range.

How do you manage heat during power outages?

Heat pumps rely on electricity to operate, so they do not provide heat during power outages. Juneau does not typically see long power outages and upgrading the efficiency of your home can slow the amount of heat you lose (and have to provide). Other buildings with heat pumps rely on a backup biomass appliance or a generator during longer power outages.

Is temperature controlled via a thermostat?

Yes, a heat pump is similar to other heating systems in that it is controlled by a thermostat, but note that the thermostat is typically located on the indoor unit itself.  They are not designed to be wired into your existing wall-mounted thermostats.  There are kits and apps that will allow a remote thermostat to work with your system (which could then be hung on a wall).

Can programmable thermostats be used with the heat pumps?


Most current heat pumps come with a programmable internal thermostat that can be set back (at night, for example) if desired. There are kits and apps that will allow a remote thermostat to work with your system, which provides more control.

Are existing heating systems typically left in place or removed when installing a heat pump system?


They are typically left in place to act as a backup system during cold spells. However, if your heating system is reaching the end of its life, Alaska Heat Smart can talk with you about other options.  It would be important to ensure that the thermostats that run each system are located and set to work in harmony -you don’t want the thermostat for your hydronic baseboards to be in the same room as your heat pump, otherwise it would never turn on and the water lines feeding your baseboards could be at risk of freezing (this may require relocating a thermostat to a back room). Always be extra careful when creating a hybrid system to watch for unanticipated freezing problems over the first winter, just to be sure there are none.  Additionally, in areas that are served by both heating systems, make sure the heat pump is set to a higher temperature so it turns on first (before the less efficient alternative system).  

Have frosting issues been solved with the newer heat pumps?

By and large, yes. Of course heat pumps still have to run defrost cycles when they build up ice on the outdoor coils at temperatures below freezing. These cycles do decrease heat pump efficiency and it is an area of current research by manufacturers. It does help when installing the heat pumps to have a drain pan or to have the heat pump off the ground so that the defrost condensate has somewhere to go.

Do household electric expenses increase with running the heat pump?

Ah, it depends. Heat pumps use electricity to operate, so the answer to this question depends on what the heat pump is offsetting. If the heat pump is replacing heat from an electric appliance, such as an electric baseboard or an electric furnace or boiler, the overall electricity use will decrease. The heat pump is pulling heat from the outdoor air and using a refrigeration cycle to step that heat pump, as opposed to electric heating appliances which are converting electricity to heat energy. So the heat pump is able to use a given amount of electricity more efficiently.

On the other hand, if the heat pump is replacing an oil-fired appliance, overall electric use will increase. However, energy costs should go down overall, because you will not have to  purchase as much heating oil.

What are the requirements for a house that is using a duct pipe oil furnace heating system, to change to a heat pump?

If you are looking to replace your oil-fired furnace with a central air source heat pump, we are happy to talk to you about options to do that and how you might handle cold spells. Another option is to install a minisplit heat pump to offset some of the heat your oil furnace is currently providing. Often the interior unit goes into the main living area where it can provide heat to the area of the home occupied the most often, and saving energy by offsetting the heat the oil furnace would otherwise have provided.

Energy Efficiency Retrofits

Is Thermalize Juneau offering any retrofits in addition to the heat pump?

Yes! Thermalize Juneau is the first campaign in Alaska to offer energy efficiency retrofits in addition to the main technology of ductless heat pumps. (Solarize Fairbanks may offer a similar option this summer as well). After speaking with Juneau builders and considering energy savings, Thermalize Juneau plans to offer building owners the chance to purchase the following energy efficiency retrofits through the Thermalize program in addition to the single head minisplit heat pump: Air sealing and ventilation upgrades, attic insulation, and crawlspace improvements.

Why did you choose these retrofits?

In an effort to keep the program simple and try to ensure a bulk purchase would be possible for energy efficiency retrofit options, Alaska Heat Smart worked with the Cold Climate Housing Research Center to choose the energy efficiency options. The options (air sealing and ventilation upgrades, attic insulation, and crawlspace improvements) represent retrofits that could be applied to many houses in Juneau, that have result in energy savings with a relatively low payback time, and that Juneau builders are willing to install in a group of homes. To arrive at this package, our team looked at data from energy audits conducted in the past in Juneau (especially those conducted in the Home Energy Rebate Program), spoke with local builders, and used a model of a median Juneau home to gauge energy savings.

Do I have to do all of the energy efficiency retrofits?

Nope. In fact, you don’t have to do any of them. Consider them as a menu of options to choose from – you can pick the ones that make the most sense for your building. If you have previously had an energy audit, or receive one though Thermalize this spring, that can help inform your choices.

Why should I upgrade efficiency in addition to installing a heat pump?

While a heat pump is a great option for many Juneau homes, we wanted homeowners to be able to have the opportunity to realize more energy savings, increase their building’s durability, and improve their indoor air quality if needed. Many energy efficiency upgrades have short payback periods and additional benefits (such as healthier air). Also, completing retrofits allows you to decrease your heat load, meaning you might be able to purchase a heat pump with a smaller capacity or just make the heat from a current heating appliance go further.

I’d like to learn a little more about what these retrofits even are or what they might mean for my building.

Sure! Our partner organization the Cold Climate Housing Research Center has a number of resources for Alaskans to learn more about energy efficiency retrofits. This page contains a general overview of many different kinds of energy upgrades, including the ones in this program. Keep in mind that air sealing – or closing off the leaks in your walls, roof, and floor where drafts can enter – saves a lot of energy but can reduce your fresh air. This is why it is important to also include controlled ways for fresh air to enter – hence the often repeated saying in Alaska to “build tight and ventilate right.” By building tight you save energy, and ventilation allows you to control incoming cold air as well as stay healthy. You can find out more about indoor air quality and Heat Recovery Ventilators, one type of controlled, balanced ventilation, on CCHRC’s website. For the more mathematically inclined out there, Wisdom and Associates also has two calculators where you can input your building’s characteristics and receive an estimate of savings: This one focuses on air sealing and this one focuses on how much you could save using a heat recovery ventilator instead of exhaust only ventilation. As for crawlspaces, here is a page giving tips on a well-maintained crawlspace, which might shed some light on whether your crawlspace is ready for an update.

It’s a cold night so I’m staying in and have my popcorn ready. Any videos I can watch to learn more about energy efficiency retrofits?

We’re glad you asked. CCHRC’s youtube channel has videos on air-sealing, crawlspaces, more crawlspaces, heat recovery ventilation, and more.