Back to HeatSmart Great Barrington

Frequently Asked Questions

Don't see your question answered here? Reach out to info@heatsmartgb.org and we'll get your question answered—and listed on our site.

About HeatSmart Great Barrington

About air source heat pumps

About incentives, financing, and economics


About HeatSmart Great Barrington

What is HeatSmart Great Barrington and who is organizing it?

HeatSmart Great Barrington is a community-based education and group purchasing program for clean heating and cooling technologies. HeatSmart Great Barrington seeks to offer residents and businesses the opportunity to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by adopting cold climate air-source heat pumps at a discount from the regional average.

From May 1 through August 31, 2018, residents and businesses in Great Barrington will have the opportunity to purchase these selected technologies at a special, limited-time discount from competitively-selected installers. Throughout the duration of this program, HeatSmart Great Barrington will offer educational “meet the installer” and open house events to give you the chance to learn more about heat pumps and how they might help meet your home comfort and energy needs.

HeatSmart Great Barrington is the latest community-driven, town-sponsored, clean energy initiative. HeatSmart Great Barrington is led by a team of volunteer residents with support from town representatives. HeatSmart Great Barrington is a pilot program offered through the HeatSmart Mass, a statewide program supported by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources. The HeatSmart Bolton/Harvard team also receives technical support from the Cadmus Group, an international consulting firm with decades of experience supporting the development of clean energy projects in Massachusetts.

How does HeatSmart Great Barrington work?

Does the concept of HeatSmart Great Barrington sound familiar?

HeatSmart Great Barrington is modeled after the successful Solarize Great Barrington program of 2013. The HeatSmart Great Barrington team, with support from MassCEC and other technical advisors, is adapting the Solarize model to fit clean heating and cooling technologies.

HeatSmart Great Barrington aims to bring you the same straightforward, hassle-free approach that made Solarize so popular in our town. HeatSmart Great Barrington offers an easy way to learn about and purchase heat pumps from some of the most qualified installers the state. All you have to do is sign up for HeatSmart Great Barrington and one or more of our competitively-selected installers will take it from there.

How does HeatSmart Great Barrington offer a discounted price?

One of the goals of HeatSmart Great Barrington is to offer transparent, discounted pricing to residents and businesses. Due to the high potential volume of leads concentrated in a small geographic area, HeatSmart Great Barrington’s selected installers are able to get best, bulk pricing from their manufacturers and distributors and be more efficient with scheduling and coordinating personnel. HeatSmart Great Barrington’s volunteers will also lead outreach efforts and help drive leads to these installers.

In exchange, HeatSmart Great Barrington has worked with these installers to ensure that they are passing their savings down to HeatSmart customers. Installers evaluated for this program were asked to bid in with their best pricing, and these bids were benchmarked against regional and statewide average pricing information provided by MassCEC.

How were the HeatSmart Great Barrington installers selected?

aInterested installers were invited to submit bids through a competitive, public request for proposals to participate in HeatSmart Great Barrington (and the three other HeatSmart pilot communities) in November. The HeatSmart Great Barrington team, with support from MassCEC and external technical consultants, selected Climate Heating and Cooling for their track record of customer service and high-quality installations and for offering competitive pricing.

Why should I participate now?

HeatSmart Great Barrington and the discounted pricing offered is a limited time offer only. Only customers who sign contracts by July 31, 2018 will receive this discount.

Additionally, there are a variety of incentives for CH&C technologies that are available today that may not be renewed over the next few years.

Is participation in this program limited to Great Barrington residents and businesses?

Yes. While you are welcome to reach out to any of our selected installers, only Great Barrington residents and businesses are eligible to receive the HeatSmart Great Barrington pricing.

What is clean heating and cooling?

In cold climates like Massachusetts, heating and cooling accounts for over 30% of the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. In order to meet our state's climate goals, homes and business across the state will have to reduce their energy consumption and convert from fossil fuel-based heating/cooling, electricity, and transportation to clean, renewable energy sources and technologies. In 2014, the Commonwealth released a statewide strategy for increasing the adoption of clean heating & cooling (also known as “renewable thermal”) technologies.

Clean heating and cooling (CH&C) describes high-efficiency heating and cooling technologies that can use thermal energy (or be powered by energy) derived from renewable sources--including the sun, air, earth, and sustainably harvested bioenergy. Because of their importance to meeting our state’s climate goals, state and local governments and utilities across the state are offering thousands of dollars in incentives to support the adoption of these technologies and energy sources.

HeatSmart Great Barrington is offering cold climate air source heat pumps, which use heat naturally occurring in ambient air to provide heat to your home via equipment that can be powered by renewably-generated electricity.

There are other CH&C technologies (e.g. ground source heat pumps, solar hot water, modern wood heating, biodiesel) available. Learn more about them here.

About heat pumps

What is an air source heat pump and how does it work?

Heat pumps are electric appliances that provide heating and cooling by moving heat into a building (for heating) or out of a building (for cooling). Heat pumps do not create heat like electric resistance or fossil fuel-fired heating systems; instead, they transfer heat from one place to another. Heat pumps use the outdoor air as a source of heat, while ground source (or geothermal) heat pumps use the ground as a source of heat.

They accomplish this by using a refrigerant that absorbs heat from colder air in order to move that heat into a space with warmer air—much the same way that a refrigerator or air conditioner works except that it can move heat in both directions to provide both heating and cooling.

While heat pumps have been used in the South as central heating and AC systems for decades, new cold climate heat pumps are cutting-edge versions of these systems that are optimized for New England weather. Cold climate heat pumps can continue providing heat even when winter air is well below freezing: today’s cold climate air source heat pumps can extract heat from the air all the way down to -13°F. In the summer, the process is reversed and heat is absorbed from the cooler indoor air and moved to the warmer outdoor air. New ductless heat pump options are available as well for homeowners who don’t have ductwork.

Since it takes far less energy to move heat than it does to create heat, ASHPs are one of the most efficient home heating systems available. There are two primary types of ASHPs:

Ductless air source heat pumps are exactly as they sound: heat pumps that don't require that you have ductwork in your home to provide heating and air conditioning. Each ductless system includes one outdoor condenser unit connected to one (single-zone) or more (multi-zone) indoor units. Ductless ASHPs are often referred to as ductless mini-splits.

Ductless air source heat pumps are the most efficient air-source systems and can be installed as a primary source of heating and cooling or installed to supplement existing systems. These supplemental applications could include, for example, installing ductless units in the most frequently used rooms like family rooms or master bedrooms to displace heating or cooling from your existing system or placing ductless units in rooms or new additions that never seem to be warm or cool enough.

These systems often come with remote controls that allow you to use them for heating, cooling, dehumidification or as a ceiling fan. Because each indoor unit can be controlled individually, you can reduce your energy use even more by lowering the temperature in rooms that are not being used.

Ducted air source heat pumps have an outdoor condenser unit that is connected to a building's ductwork, which is used to distribute heating or air conditioning throughout the building. Ducted (also known as central or unitary) heat pumps are not much different from central air conditioners or furnaces, except that they provide heating and cooling in a single system. Ducted ASHPs can work with your home’s existing ductwork, though some modifications may be necessary to adapt it from being suited for a furnace to being suited for a heat pump.

Regardless of whether a system is ductless or ducted, all ASHPs will have an outdoor condenser unit (pictured below), which will be mounted on a ground platform or on the side or roof of your building (to avoid snow buildup).

Above: A ductless ASHP condenser; Below: A ducted ASHP condenser">

This outdoor condenser unit will be connected to one or more indoor air distribution units. If you are installing a ducted ASHP, this will be a central air handler similar to one used by a furnace or central AC system. If you are installing a ductless ASHP, this will typically be a wall-mounted unit (pictured below).

 

For homeowners concerned about aesthetics or who don’t have suitable wall space, floor-mounted and ceiling-mounted units are also available, though these units cost more to install.Photo courtesy of E. Armstrong

What are the benefits of using an air source heat pump?

There are many reasons why an air source heat pump could be a good fit for your home:

  • Energy savings. If you heat with oil, propane, or electric resistance heat, you could save hundreds of dollars a year on your heating bill by installing an air source heat pump. There is no need to pay thousands of dollars to get a gas connection to your home: a cleaner alternative is already available.
  • High-efficiency cooling, no ductwork required. Air source heat pumps also provide air conditioning or dehumidification and are more efficient than window units and most central air conditioning systems. Ductless heat pumps can allow you to reclaim your windows and avoid having to install ductwork to stay comfortable in the summer.
  • Improved home comfort. In addition to providing cooling, heat pumps filter and dehumidify air, which can improve the air quality and comfort of your home. In particular, the filtration provided by ductless systems can significantly reduce allergens in your home benefiting sensitive individuals.
  • Increased resiliency. Efficiently cooling even one room in a home may be a life-saver for people vulnerable to excessively high temperatures during heat waves due to a warming climate.
  • Flexible options. Heat pumps are a flexible technology that can be installed in homes of all shapes and sizes with different needs—whether you need a whole-home system replacement, have (or don’t have) ductwork, want to add zoning to your home, want to increase the efficiency of heating part of your home, or want to add extra heating/cooling to that part of your home that is never as comfortable as it should be.
  • Lower your carbon footprint. As a clean heating and cooling technology, converting from systems that burn fossil fuels to air source heat pumps will help reduce your carbon footprint and dependence on imported fossil fuels. Using solar PV or other renewable electricity sources can further offset emissions from the electricity powering your heat pump.
Are there drawbacks to air source heat pumps?

While heat pumps are a great fit for many Great Barrington homes and businesses, like other heating and cooling systems they have a few drawbacks:

  • Performance in extreme cold. Since air source heat pumps rely on extracting heat from outdoor air, the heating output and efficiency of a heat pump declines as outdoor air temperature declines. While all heat pumps installed through HeatSmart Great Barrington were selected based on their performance at 5F and produce heat down to -13F, our installer will recommend keeping a backup system for the coldest days of the year. This could include keeping your existing system in place or adding a supplementary system like a pellet stove or electric baseboards.
    During some of those particularly cold days, it may make more economic sense for you to shut off your heat pump and use a fossil fuel backup system to provide heating. It is worth noting that it is unlikely your heat pump will stop providing heat entirely: even in the prolonged cold snap in January 2018, the temperature (not wind chill) did not drop below -13F.
  • Aesthetic considerations. Heat pumps require outdoor (e.g. condenser and piping) and indoor equipment (wall-mounted units) that may be aesthetically displeasing to some homeowners. Our installer can discuss a variety of options available to you to minimize aesthetic impacts from an heat pump installation.
  • Higher installed costs. Heat pumps cost more upfront than fossil fuel or central AC systems. However, their higher efficiency will typically pay back the difference over the course of several years.
Is an air source heat pump right for me?

There are few homes where some heat pump solution might not work. However, if you answer “Yes” to any of the questions below, a heat pump system could be a particularly good fit for you:

  • Do you heat with oil, propane or electric resistance?
  •  
  • Do you want central air conditioning or want to reclaim your windows from window units but don’t have/don’t want to install ductwork?
  • Do you have persistent hot or cold spots in your home?
  • Do you want more control over the temperature in individual rooms in your home?
  • Are you sensitive to air pollutants and allergens?
  • Do you want to reduce your carbon footprint?
Why are air source heat pumps considered a “clean heating and cooling” technology?”

Air source heat pumps are considered to be “clean” heating and cooling systems because they do not create heat, but rather they move heat from the ambient air from one place to another. This process is powered by electricity, which can also be sourced from renewable sources like solar, wind, or hydro.

Even though our grid is only about 12% renewable today (and getting greener every year!), a heat pump system powered by grid electricity will still reduce your greenhouse gas emissions from heating by 20-60%! These emissions will continue to decrease from year to year as our grid becomes greener, whereas the emissions from fossil fuels will stay the same.

How efficient are air source heat pumps?

Heat pumps are typically rated for heating efficiency based on their Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF) or seasonal Coefficient of Performance (COP), both of which describe the system’s efficiency over the course of the heating season. The seasonal efficiency of heat pumps can range from 220% to 300%+ (i.e. COP of 2.2 to 3.0) depending on the system type and application. That means that for every one unit of electricity used, 2.2 to 3 units of heat are transferred into the home. By comparison, electric resistance heating has a COP of 1.

Heat pumps also provide efficient cooling, comparable to highest-efficiency air conditioners. Ductless heat pumps can give you the opportunity to get AC throughout your home without using loud window units or installing ductwork!

How do the annual maintenance costs of an air source heat pump compare to other heating systems? Annual system maintenance, which consists of cleaning air filters and an annual maintenance checkup for the outside unit, costs about the same as annual servicing charges for a boiler or furnace.
How long do air source heat pumps last? Heat pumps have an expected lifetime of about 15 years—similar to the average furnace or central AC system.
How noisy are air source heat pumps? A ductless indoor unit is quieter when running than a refrigerator and much quieter than a typical window AC unit. Ducted heat pumps are no louder than a typical furnace or central air conditioner.
Can air source heat pumps provide hot water? There are water heaters that use heat pump technology (heat pump water heaters or HPWH), but they are considered different technologies than those of the heat pumps included in the HeatSmart Great Barrington program.
How complicated is installing a heat pump and how much time will it take?

A heat pump installation is typically a straightforward process with minimal disruption to your home. A simple, single-zone ductless heat pump system can be completed in less than a day and only requires a single 2-3 inch hole to be cut (and later, sealed) in your wall.

If you are installing a “multi-zone” ductless system or a ducted system that requires modifications to your ductwork, your installation may take a few days to complete.

How can I maximize energy savings from my heat pump

While most heat pump systems work right out of the box, there are a few things you may want consider to get the most out of your system:

  • "Set it and forget it.” While many of us are accustomed to turning off the lights and turning down the heat when we leave the home or go to sleep, heat pumps are most efficient when running continuously at partial output without sudden increases in heating demand that result from cranking the thermostat up. Think about it as similar to the way your car’s mileage improves when you drive at a constant speed instead of constantly stopping and starting. Consider only setting back the thermostat on your heat pump system when you’re gone for several days.
  • Know when to use your backup system. Depending on the weather and the cost of your backup heating fuel, it may be more efficient to use your backup system during the coldest parts of the year when heat pumps are at their least efficient. If you expect the temperature to be in the single digits or lower for the day, consider just turning your heat pump system off and firing up your backup boiler or furnace.
  • Keep your system well maintained. A well-maintained system will keep performing at high efficiency. Remember to clean your indoor dust filters; keep the outdoor condenser free of snow, ice, and other obstructions; and consider getting regular annual service.
  • Improve the efficiency of your home. A heat pump in a well-insulated home will perform better than one in a poorly insulated home. Consider getting approved, incentivized insulation, air sealing, and weatherization upgrades through Mass Save prior to installing your heat pump. Not only will your home be even more comfortable and your system perform better, but you may be able to install a smaller (and cheaper) system to meet your home’s needs.
How well do heat pumps work in the middle of winter?

Quite well! The newer cold climate heat pumps offered through HeatSmart Great Barrington are designed to be used in a New England winter, providing efficient heating all the way down to 5°F while still continuing to provide useful heat all the way down to -13°F or lower.

On some of the colder days, your heat pump might not put out as much heat and you may need to use some backup heat to help stay warm. As such, the installer will keep your existing heating system in place (or install a backup) for the coldest days of the year.

Additionally, you will want to keep the outdoor unit of your heat pump system clear of snow to make sure it has sufficient airflow--just like you need to keep your furnace vents clear to prevent carbon monoxide build-up.

Nervous about heat pump performance in January? Don't be: Mainers and Vermonters have installed more cold-climate heat pumps than any other New England states in the past few years—over 30,000 since 2013—and both Maine and Vermont are significantly colder than Massachusetts in the winter!

About financing, incentives, and economics

What rebates and incentives are available to me?

There are a variety of incentives available for clean heating and cooling offered by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, Dept. of Energy Resources, and Mass Save. Consult the HeatSmart Great Barrington rebates and financing guide for a description of these rebates and special requirements.

These incentive programs include the following:

  • MassCEC Clean Heating and Cooling Program. The MassCEC Clean Heating and Cooling Program provides rebates for heat pumps. These rebates vary based on whether you’re installing a ducted or ductless system, but you should expect to receive rebates of at least $625 for each indoor unit you install. This rebate increases if you meet the income eligibility requirements described in the guide (starting at $133,000 for a family of four and below).
  • Mass Save. Mass Save offers rebates for heat pumps that range from $200-800+ depending on the type and number of indoor units installed.

Concerned about making sure you get all of the available rebates? Our installers are up to speed on all of the latest state and local programs and will help you complete the necessary paperwork. We are also in the process of developing a detailed, step-by-step guide for the incentives you will need to file yourself.

What financing options are available to me? The Mass Save HEAT Loan is available to residents of Great Barrington. The HEAT Loan offers a 0% interest, 7-year loan of up to $25,000 and is available for both CH&C technologies. That equates to monthly payments of about $120 for a $10,000 system!
How much could I potentially save by installing clean heating and cooling?

Everyone’s heating (and cooling) bill is different—so the amount you could save on energy will vary depending on a number of factors, including what fuel you currently use to heat your home, how well insulated it is, what size and shape your home is, what temperature you keep your thermostat at, how many heat pump units you install, and more.

Typically, the most important factor is what fuel you currently use to heat your home and how old and inefficient your heating system is. If you heat with electric resistance, or propane, you’ll probably see the most energy savings—anywhere from $500 a year to over a $1,500, depending on how much you currently pay and how much of your heating bill you offset.

One way to compare heat pumps to fossil fuel-based equipment is to look at how much it costs to provide a unit of heat. It is hard to predict fossil fuel prices from year to year, but the chart below provides a comparison based on an average of fuel prices from the last five years. Take a look at the chart below for a comparison:

How much can I expect to pay for a clean heating and cooling system? Check out our detailed pricing guide here. In general, ductless heat pumps generally start at around $3,500-4,000 per zone before rebates.