Heat pumps for space conditioning and water heating are an increasingly important part of ICAST’s efforts to deliver economic, environmental, and social benefits in the multifamily housing market. Heat pump HVAC systems provide heating and cooling, transferring heat from one area to another rather than generating heat. They can be several times more efficient than conventional space heating and cooling systems such as furnaces, boilers, and central air conditioners.
These systems aren’t new. The technology has been around for decades, and they are a popular heating appliance in milder climates in the U.S. However, recent technological innovations have dramatically improved their performance and efficiency. Heat pumps can:
- curb multifamily affordable housing (MFAH) property owners’ operational costs, such as maintenance or repairs for old, faulty, or simply more expensive and inefficient conventional systems,
- replace aging HVAC at the same price for a “business as usual” system or a lower one (assuming there are available incentives—more on that below),
- reduce tenants’ utility bills, and
- create healthier, safer, and more comfortable environments for tenants.
Frequently Asked Questions:
I thought heat pumps didn’t work in cold climates.
Older generations of heat pumps underperformed in cold climates and discouraged customers. Modern heat pump HVAC can be a highly efficient space heating solution even in very cold climates, performing well below 0°F depending on the equipment and manufacturer. Terms for this equipment class run the gamut of HVAC jargon, but we will refer to them here as very high-efficiency (VHE) heat pumps.
Aren’t they much more expensive than conventional HVAC?
Upfront costs for heat pump installs can be higher, but utility rebates and long-term operational cost savings can offset them. The size of the rebates will vary by region due to various factors, including supportive policies (e.g., state-level greenhouse gas reduction plans), the volume of high installs in the region, the availability of qualified installers, and the price they charge for a VHE system install, etc. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) also provided the U.S. Dept. of Energy funds for the Home Energy Rebate programs. MFAH will be able to receive up to $14K per apartment to electrify systems for space conditioning, water heating, and cooking.
Can I work with any HVAC contractor for my installation?
Unfortunately, no. Many HVAC contractors are opposed to VHE heat pumps because of negative experiences with previous generations of equipment and may try to move you off of them. Some contractors are willing to install the systems but lack the proper training. For example, they may recommend heat pump sizes based on the apartment’s square footage, the capacity of the old equipment, or their personal experience rather than conducting comprehensive energy audits or using recommended HVAC sizing resources. So, it’s important to choose the right installer. In some parts of the country, heat pump training for contractors has been integrated into decarbonization or heat pump deployment efforts. ICAST is currently working to create an advanced curriculum to train individuals to design, install, and service VHE heat pumps. It will ultimately disseminate this curriculum and best practices to help move the industry forward.
Where can I learn more?
ICAST has produced a Resource Guide to help MFAH property owners and managers (among others) learn about heat pumps and their many benefits for the MFAH sector. Other resources include a Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships product list of ASHPs best suited to heat efficiently in cold climates and a Buying Guide. Additionally, ICAST has been closely tracking all IRA and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) opportunities relevant to MFAH (including the Home Energy Rebate programs), and we created an Instant Cost/Benefit Estimate Calculator, where property owners can quickly estimate the federal funds available to “go green.” Access the calculator here, and contact ICAST if you have questions or need assistance.