Heat pumps are a way to heat your home without burning fossil fuels – and they are perfectly suited for Juneau.
Like magic, they pull heat right out of thin air! And yet, they’re totally old news. If you have a refrigerator, then you already have the basic technology in your home.
Hundreds of homes, businesses, and municipal buildings have already converted. That includes the airport, the pool, the NOAA lab, and Foodland IGA.
Want to know the best part? It cuts your heating bill down by one- to two-thirds, (depending on what type of heat you have now). They are 3 times more efficient than electric resistance baseboards.
What is a heat pump and how does it work?
Have you ever put your hand near the back of a refrigerator and noticed that it was warm? It uses a compressor to remove the heat from inside the box. Simply turn that technology the other direction to pull warmth into your home and voila, you have a heat pump. Rather than creating heat, heat pumps move heat – and compress it. The compression is what turns that cold Alaskan air into 70 degree heat for your home. Click here for a more in-depth explanation.
What is the difference between air-source, ground-source, and seawater heat pumps?
Heat pumps can pull warmth from different sources: from the ground, the water, or right out of thin air. They require different equipment and different installation depending on which kind you choose. Air source heat pumps are generally the simplest and least expensive to install.
Do they work in Alaska’s cold climate?
Heat pump technology has made significant improvements in the last 2-3 decades. Whereas the heat pumps of the 1980s couldn’t keep up when temperatures dropped steeply, they are now able to handle a lower range. They are well suited for Juneau’s coastal climate.
How can I get one?
It is important to start by looking at the heating system you already have. Do you already have existing duct work or a boiler? Sometimes that infrastructure can be connected to a new heat source. It is also important to think about the layout of your space and how large it is. Make sure you choose one that will be a good fit. There are several businesses in Juneau that install and service heat pumps. They can give you an estimate and explain the process.
Also consider energy efficiency measures. The cheapest and most sustainable energy is energy that you you don’t use. Is your home is tightly sealed and properly ventilated?
Free weatherization assistance is available for Native and non-Native households through Tlingit & Haida Regional Housing Authority.
Here is an Energy audit program for commercial buildings.
How much does it cost to convert?
Prices vary widely depending on the size and layout of your home, as well as your existing heating system. An air-source heat pump is roughly comparable to installing a monitor heater. Installing one unit can be as low as $3,000 while converting a whole house can cost as much as $15,000. Many people have found that the cost was comparable to replacing their oil furnace when it wore out. Other people have chosen to use heat pumps as supplemental heat, placing one unit in the main living area and keeping electric baseboards, for example, in back bedrooms. Each situation is unique so be sure to get an estimate for your specific home. Additionally, costs can vary between contractors so it’s worth getting a second opinion as well.
How much money will I save?
Most people report saving one-third to one-half. With a ground-source heat pump, some people pay a total of $100/month for electricity and heat. In Seward, “Baker saysthe taxpayer-owned SeaLife Center turned off its two oil-fired boilers in 2012 and began to realize savings of $10,000 a month in fuel, or $120,000 a year. This will pay back the original investment in a little under nine years.”
Are there resources to help finance the conversion?
Yes! Many homeowners choose to get a home equity loan to make upgrades. These often have the best interest rate. There are also these options from the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation.
Are there other heat pumps in Juneau?
Yes! Hundreds of residents have converted their homes and businesses to heat pumps in the last 2 years alone. Most of these are air source heat pumps. There are also several homes with ground source heat pumps.
What is district heating and how does that relate to heat pumps?
District heating uses a single heat source for multiple buildings. Such technology has been around for more than 100 years and works well in densely populated areas. The Juneau Airport, for example, has a very small district heating system. The Juneau Airport is powered by a ground-source heat pump. There is a proposal moving forward to bring district heating to downtown Juneau. This system would use a seawater heat pump to heat buildings – and possibly even sidewalks! Click here to watch a video about the proposed project.
For more details
This report from CBJ gives an interesting overview.
Ground-source heat pump at the home of Juneau resident Steve Behnke.