3 stories that show that heat pump systems work in Vermont homes

4 min read
Farmhouse uses weatherization, solar energy, and a heat pump to reduce energy use

Richard Carr runs Dead Horse Farm Maple Works in Enosburg Falls. Sugaring is energy intensive. So Richard and his family have tried to invest in energy efficiency when they can. Not just for the sugar shack, either. The family has replaced lightbulbs with LEDs in the sugar shack and in the old farmhouse that is their home. In 2014, they weatherized their home from top to bottom, air sealing and insulating to keep it warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.

The family also installed solar panels. First, they worked with Solartech to install two All Earth Renewables trackers in 2011. Then in 2019, they worked with Vermont based Suncommon to install solar panels on the roof of the sugar house. Suncommon mentioned that the added solar generation could help offset the electric use from a heat pump. Richard was intrigued.

Richard worked with Vermont Energy Contracting & Supply Corp. to install a single ductless heat pump. The indoor unit is in the dining room, where it can heat (and cool) the downstairs effectively.

“I cut my own wood from our property to use in our two wood stoves. I was sure we wouldn’t have enough wood this winter, but since we used the heat pump so much, we were able to get through the season without running out of wood.”

Richard Carr, Enosburg Falls

Enosburg Falls has a municipal utility that is a member of the Vermont Public Power Supply Authority (VPPSA), which represents many of Vermont’s municipal and locally operated electric utilities. Because Richard had already tightened up his home, the heat pump installation project qualified for a bonus rebate from VPPSA, in addition to Efficiency Vermont and VPPSA’s upfront discount on the equipment. Heat pumps are most efficient in tight, weatherized homes. VPPSA, like all of Vermont’s utilities, offers rebates on energy transformation projects that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Carr family does have a backup boiler, just in case they need additional backup heat. This winter, they left the boiler thermostat on low and only had to turn it up a couple times to heat the upstairs during the coldest times.

Help in the shoulder season in Vermont

Liz Nelson heats her West Glover home with a furnace and a wood stove. She’s usually comfortable in the winter, but the home’s temperature can be hard to regulate in the spring and fall. These are known as “shoulder seasons” and include days that start below freezing but get up to 60 degrees. Turning a furnace on in the morning might end up overheating the house, requiring cooling in the warmer midday periods.

A couple years ago, Liz’s son Jesse installed a heat pump in his own home. Excited about the potential for heat pumps, Jesse ended up getting trained through Efficiency Vermont’s Efficiency Excellence Network to install heat pumps for others. He offered to help his mom get a heat pump for her house.

As a Vermont Electric Co-op (VEC) member , she was eligible for a joint discount on the heat pump from VEC and Efficiency Vermont. She also received an additional rebate bonus for income eligible customers from Efficiency Vermont.

The heat pump has been installed since August 2020, so Liz has gotten to use it in the fall and spring. She loves how quiet it is, and that it puts her in control on those shoulder season days. Her open floor plan allows the heat pump to quickly heat the living room and kitchen. The furnace and wood stove help heat the whole house as needed. This summer, she also turned it on a few times to cool the house.

The heat pump isn’t the only energy improvement that Liz has made. Eight years ago, she installed solar panels at the same time that she was re-roofing her home. She rolled the cost of the solar into the new roof. Eight years later, the solar is all paid off. Now her heat pump will be partially powered by solar energy generated right on her roof.

Homeowner upgrades home comfort while working from home

Cari Kelley decided to install a heat pump to fight the heat. Despite their name, heat pumps are highly effective air conditioners. They’re much more efficient than standard window AC units and you only have to install them once. Cari, a Vermont Electric Co-op member, works for United Way of Northwest Vermont as the Workplace Donor Relations Manager.. After spending summer 2020 working from home, Cari realized that cooling was necessary for her comfort and sanity.

Cari’s Grand Isle home was built with efficiency in mind in 2006. Today, the home is still tight and benefits from an air exchange system to efficiently provide fresh air. A tight home will help heat pumps be most effective. Cari worked with the Energy Co-op of Vermont to install two ductless heat pumps, once again benefitting from the discount from Efficiency Vermont and VEC. One is located in the central living space and one is in the main bedroom to provide relief on both floors.

“The crew that was here was super respectful. They kept us in the loop throughout the day about what was going on. They would come in and show us their progress and double check where we wanted everything installed.”

Cari Kelley, Grand Isle

Cari found the heat pump works as she expected. She follows the “set it and forget it” best practice. Leaving it on allows the heat pump to cool (and dehumidify) as efficiently as possible. And she’s looking forward to winter. She currently heats with a propane fireplace and an oil furnace. But she is considering leaving the furnace for backup on the coldest days and using the heat pump for primary heat.