Heating contractors discuss heat pump use and push from state

13 Mar.,2023


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2 On Your Side's Ron Plants discussed installation factors and costs with industry experts.

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — There's been a lot of talk this winter about electric heat pumps and other household appliances. They are the focus of the state's Climate Action Council report under Gov. Kathy Hochul. 

It would eventually ban the use of fossil fuels, specifically natural gas. So 2 On Your Side asked two qualified contractors for their input.

It's been a hot topic ever since the approved the 445-page Climate Action Council Scoping Report, which was set up by a 2019 law, actually emerged in December.

During her visit to Dunkirk in January, we asked the governor about this policy. She started out by pointing out that natural gas stoves would not be involved.

We did ask about furnaces and other gas based appliances like hot water heaters and clothes dryers. Hochul told us back then, "They don't have to convert their entire house to replace something."

Reporter: When [appliances] wear out...don't they, to be honest?

Hochul: We're talking about new housing.

But the report, which is supposed to set state guidelines, does say specifically: "prohibit replacement" of 'fossil fuel' devices at end of use life for 'heating, cooling, and hot water' as of "2030."  

So specifically regarding heating, some contractors are suggesting an air source heat pump strictly powered by electricity. It basically reverses the traditional cooling method to pump heat into the home using coils.  

Ian Donnelly of T- Mark Heating and Plumbing explains, "Even if the temperature drops to five degrees and even zero degrees, these systems have the ability to provide primary heat to this home."

The demonstration application we were shown is in a somewhat unconventional newly-built home in Buffalo, but Donnelly did provide pictures of some furnace-to-heat pump conversion examples with the basement gas furnace replaced by an air handler unit. 

"You might look at it and say oh, that's a furnace, but what you'll notice is that there's no gas connections to it at all. There's no exhaust connections at all," said Donnelly.

Some of these heat pump conversions may use traditional duct work, but others could use the newer upper wall-mounted ducts.

So we asked about the efficiency of this heat pump unit when there were single-digit temperatures in Western New York earlier this month. 

"Yeah, so they were able to maintain temperature 70 degrees, second floor, first floor, and in the basement. The technology has evolved," said Donnelly.

Some who post on social media and say they now have heat pumps may disagree on the performance and claim they are disappointed with their experience with them.

But what about the cost for a heat pump conversion?

That Climate Action Council report on page 193 states:

For example, for an older single-family home that is otherwise in good condition, the average installed cost for a heat pump for whole-home space heating and cooling paired with an air sealing and insulation upgrade is estimated to be about $21,000 for a cold climate ASHP and $40,000 for a GSHP system (before available rebates and tax credits), as compared with roughly $10,000 or less to replace a fossil fuel boiler/furnace and air conditioner (with no envelope work).

It goes on to state:

For many customers now heating with low-cost gas, however, bill savings do not currently offer a clear economic return on investment for adopting a whole-home heat pump.

The report does mention state and federal tax rebates and incentives. Much of that information can be found on the NYSERDA website. 

Through the proposed Empower New York plan, there would be even more funding provided for 20,000 low-income families, which the governor brought up during our questions to her. 

Governor Hochul told us on January 23, "Yes, the conversion costs are high. That's why we're going to have rebates and assistance for people to convert to different, less expensive."

Reporter: Who pays for that Governor?

Hochul: The state will be paying for this.

Reporter: And that's taxpayers?

Hochul: We also have...but I'm doing this for the consumer.

Hochul didn't directly answer the question.

Now as for operating costs, our example homeowner in Buffalo says with only a whole-house electric bill (again, in a non-conventional style home) with other home appliances and digital devices, it came to $125 to $150 a month. Remember, there is no additional gas bill for that, so there may be long term savings.    

However, we have also heard about issues like frozen coils in heat pumps from Phoenix, Ariz. during an unusual cold snap in that community.  

We also reached out to Chris Tryjankowski who runs PCS Plumbing and Heating in Buffalo.

"Depending on the house and your insulation and your windows and all that other good stuff, you may not get your house up to the temperature that you used to be able to get it up to with gas," said Tryjankowski.

Tryjankowski is President of the New York State Association of Plumbing, Heating, and Cooling Contractors which has more than 200 members across the state. He says state officials ignored his organization's pleas for an HVAC contractor to be part of the 22-member Climate Action Council 

"It affects us probably more than anybody, and I do think it was a very big oversight," said Tryjankowski.

So let's get back to that scoping report of no fossil fuel replacements after 2030. There are other gas versus electric considerations around the house.

Again, that includes a hot water heater which are also natural gas, based as a heating source. 

"Electric, our water is so cold here in the wintertime, the temperature rise you get out of a tankless water heater to go with electric, it would really never work. You would never get comfortable water," said Tryjankowski.

He also says it might be difficult to provide sufficient hot water for the typical family of four which might want to take showers before work or school.   

And we should not forget about clothes dryers because they are also heated by natural gas.

Also, if you do switch over to all electric, you might really have to power up your house. That might include work on your electrical panel.

That could be an upgrade from 100 AMPS to 200 AMPS pegged by electrical contractors at perhaps $700 to $2,000 dollars or more with a required permit. There may be rebates or incentives there too.

It remains to be seen if state lawmakers in Albany will approve the entire plan with replacement deadlines to put it into action. 

Some utility firms are now asking their customers to contact their state lawmakers to share their opinions on the Climate Action Council's plan. 

The state contractor's association is making that same request. 


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