With all of the crazy weather and news of climate change, a lot of people are looking at how they can make an impact. Ensuring our homes have less of a carbon footprint is one of the biggest actions we can take – namely better insulation, using heat pumps, and installing solar panels on the roof. I am in the middle of a project to install geothermal heat pumps in my home, in part because I care deeply about doing something about climate change. (I’ll share some more information on that project in another article.)

I live in a neighborhood of old Victorian homes in Newton, and these older homes certainly present challenges to retrofitting with new technologies. For example, installing air source heat pumps with ducting may require opening up walls, mending old lathe and plaster walls, and pulling out the original heating system with their steam or hot water radiators. However, when I took a walk down my street a couple of weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised to see that a number of my neighbors had recently installed heat pumps. I was curious as to their motivation: was it driven by a desire to be more climate friendly or were there more practical drivers? To find out, I visited two of my neighbors a couple of weeks ago to ask why.

Tanya and David

For my neighbors Tanya and David, the key driver was comfort in the home and reducing their electric bills. They had lived without central air conditioning for a number of years, but last summer it was almost intolerably hot in their house. The in-window air conditioners they had been using were noisy and the electricity costs were high. When they learned about the incentives from Mass Save, which can be up to $15,000 to put in heat pumps, they realized it would be a fantastic investment– and it would also improve the comfort of their home. Since air source heat pumps work to both heat and cool a home, they would not need a separate air conditioning system. As part of the incentive process, they were required to get a home energy audit and subsequently had to beef up their home’s insulation levels. Though the base estimated cost of insulation was $8000, over $7000 of that was covered by incentives, and their out of pocket cost was reduced to about $1000.

Susan and Michael

The second set of neighbors I visited, Susan and Michael, outlined that they had bought the house a couple of years ago and were looking at a number of ways they could make it more energy efficient. While they wanted to make their house less dependent on fossil fuels, attractive financial incentives and comfort in their home were also key drivers in their decision to install a heat pump. As part of their overall evaluation, they looked at a number of options, including upgrading the windows, adding solar, and installing heat pumps. Upgrading the windows turned out to be quite expensive, especially if they wanted to keep the character of the Victorian home, making them hesitate. At the same time, the old air conditioning system they had inherited was on its last legs and would require a large investment for a new one. Thinking ahead to the future, it made more sense to replace it with a heat pump system that could give them both heating and cooling instead of installing another air conditioning system. This reasoning, plus the great financial incentives, made installing a heat pump a great first step in their overall energy renovation plan.

Comfort and Saving Money are Key Motivators

The $15,000 rebate offered by Mass Save, along with an interest free loan, were critical in getting both families over the hump. Tanya said, “With the interest free loan– we pay $200 a month–it’s almost free money.” In addition, they will also continue to benefit from lower heating and cooling costs through the life of the system.

So, while we all have a desire to make an impact on climate change and reduce our carbon footprint, the more practical needs of comfort and saving money are often the reasons why people make the decision to change to heat pumps. Either way, it’s a win-win for everyone.

If you are interested in converting to a heat pump for your home, you can contact Green Newton’s Heatsmart Newton program to get started. The City of Newton’s Energy Coach program can also answer your questions.

Brian Hodgson is a Newton resident and Green Newton board member.