JP Observer: Heat Pump Time: Energy-Efficient Home Heating & Cooling Options Available

When I was a third-grader in Alabama I remember my dad pointed to a metal box near our house in the backyard. He said it was a heat pump that warmed the house in the winter.

“It pulls energy from the ground,” he explained. “No need for fire. We can use this here in the South because it doesn’t get very cold here.”

“No fire! That sounds like magic,” I said, remembering our coal-burning furnace up north the year before.

(BTW, that backyard and all the backyards on my street were peppered with dozens of tall, skinny evergreen trees left growing in the sandy soil by our subdivision developer. It was forbidden to cut the trees down by local regulations. Dad also told me that. Yes, in Alabama in the 1950s. Boston is getting there.)

I still kind of felt that heat pumps are doing the impossible when I attended a heat pump webinar held by Jamaica plain-based Green Energy Consumers Alliance on April 18. I learned quickly that what heat pumps do is not only possible but highly desirable.

Heat pumps, “the primary way to get rid of the fossil fuels that most of us rely on to stay warm in winter” are now even more amazing, according to Loie Hayes, Energy Efficiency Coordinator with JP-based Green Energy Consumers Alliance, who led the webinar. Mike Simons of Abode Energy Management, which has much heat pump technology expertise, was also a presenter.

Heat pumps now work well in cold climates even if temps go down to -15º, they said. The same units that heat also cool the air efficiently in the summer. And they run on electricity, which is becoming less and less reliant on fossil fuels to create.

Anyone building new or who wants to replace an old heating system should seriously consider a heat pump, for heating and cooling. According to Green Energy, “new incentives from the federal and state governments are making heat pumps more affordable.”

Simons said heat pumps are “highly efficient.” He and Hayes explained that no combustion is involved as electricity moves energy that cools or heats from outside in.

Like other heating systems (or roof installations and other household operating systems, for that matter), several factors are involved in selection and installation of heat pumps, and it’s all based on science. Buildings with existing ductwork and weatherization can be adapted more easily than others.

Sources (ground or air); size of space; sizes of rooms; location to put “heads” or indoor air distributors; and the current heating system are just a few of the technical aspects that come into consideration.

Fortunately, working with Green Energy, Abode can provide homeowners lots of technical information related to their own situations, offering: an on-line portal to find trusted heat pump installers (free); independent quote comparison ($75 –a 50 percent discount); and virtual consultations with a building science expert ($150). More details are available at

Recorded webinars are on YouTube at

People may also contact Hayes at 617-380-4741or [email protected] for more information.

Sandee Storey is the Publisher Emerita of the Jamaica Plain Gazette.

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