Josh Karkos of Karkos Heating Services in Lewiston installs a heat pump at a Lewiston house. Sun Journal photo by Daryn Slover

AUGUSTA — Want to save hundreds of dollars on your annual heating costs and help the planet? 

Want air conditioning at a good price on those increasingly hot summer days?

Install a heat pump, says Michael Stoddard, executive director of the Efficiency Maine, which runs weatherization and rebate programs for energy-efficient heating systems and appliances.

The installation of one heat pump is projected to save between $300 and $600 a year.

“Everyone could use that,” Stoddard said. “It would keep those dollars circulating in the local economy, which would be nice.”

And heat pumps provide both heat and air conditioning. Change a setting on the remote and the unit converts from heating to cooling.

Later this year, Gov. Janet Mills is rolling out an initiative aimed at getting 100,000 heat pumps into Maine buildings over the next five years.

Saying she is also personally tired of spending so much on oil, Mills is installing a heat pump at her Farmington house.

When she campaigned for office, she said she saw “scary situations” with lower-income people using gas heaters beside beds and open ovens being used for heat.

Because there is no combustion with heat pumps, they are not only cheaper but safer, Mills said.

Former state lawmaker Hannah Pingree heads the new Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future, an agency that will lead the statewide heat pump push.

Through Efficiency Maine, the Mills administration will continue $500 rebates for homeowners and businesses when heat pumps are installed. In addition, the administration is working on new programs with MaineHousing to help low-income heating assistance recipients get heat pumps installed in their homes, Pingree said.

Unlike older, less-efficient units, today’s heat pumps provide a lot of heat even in the dead of winter, she said.

“We have a lot of houses reliant on heating oil in Maine,” Pingree said. “We know moving to heat pumps would be efficient at reducing fossil fuel, and heat pumps would also save people.”

A heat pump installed near the ceiling of a local house. Sun Journal photo by Daryn Slover

If Maine reaches the goal of 100,000 heat pumps installed in the next five years, “it would lower our carbon emissions,” Stoddard said. “Our estimates are that it would reduce carbon dioxide emissions in Maine by 115,000 to 225,000 metric tons per year. It is the equivalent of 48,000 passenger vehicles per year in Maine, a meaningful impact on our long-range carbon emission reduction goals.”

Maine is fossil-fuel dependent. Most Maine houses use oil for heat, and the average house burns 800 gallons of oil a year, Stoddard said.

The current rate of heat pump installations in Maine is between 7,000 to 8,000 a year.

“It’s been climbing,” Stoddard said.

But to get to 100,000 installed by the end of 2024, the installation rate would have to more than double to 20,000 a year.

Michael Stoddard of the state’s Efficiency Maine agency will be part of Gov. Janet Mills push to get more heat pumps installed in Maine homes and businesses. Submitted photo

Stoddard said he does not recommend home and business owners remove their existing oil, gas or wood-burning sources of heat. In larger buildings, one heat pump is not enough and a back-up energy source is needed. But, he said, heat pumps can easily take over as the primary source of heat, with the existing oil, gas or wood sources used as backups.

Josh Karkos of Karkos Heating Service of Lewiston said heat pumps are gaining popularity. Five years ago, he installed about 25 a year. He is now installing 75 a year.

Heat pumps work best in open-concept homes, Karkos said, where the heat can easily circulate. Like Stoddard, he recommends customers keep their oil or gas heating systems for backup.

John Story of Lewiston has several heat pumps at his house. He also uses oil for radiant heat. When Story moved to Maine from the South a few years ago and built a new house, he was looking for an alternative to only oil. Karkos told him about heat pumps, which were serving customers well.

“I’m sure I’m saving money,” Story said. “It’s cleaner, easier to deal with and it’s so nice to have air conditioning.”

He said he agrees with the state’s plan to encourage more heat pumps to help save money and reduce use of fossil fuel.

“We are prisoners in terms of whatever happens overseas in terms of oil prices,” Story said. “It’s great to have alternative measures.”

Homeowners who think they cannot afford a heat pump should reconsider, Stoddard said. A good, high-performing heat pump costs between $3,000 and $4,000, including installation. Efficiency Maine offers a rebate of $500, which brings the overall cost to $2,500 to $3,500.

If cost is an issue, experts say consider an energy loan. The savings from a heat pump can be enough to cover all or much of the loan payment, depending on the type and duration of the loan, Stoddard said.

A $2,500 loan paid back over 10 years, for example, would mean a monthly payment of $27. That loan paid back over five years would cost $48 a month. A $4,000 loan paid back in 10 years would cost $43 a month, or $76 a month over five years

Electric bills do increase when using a heat pump, but not drastically. The state’s projected $300 to $600 annual savings with a heat pump is an annual net savings and accounts for extra expenses, such as the additional electricity costs, Stoddard said.

Stoddard said there are 555,000 occupied homes in Maine, not all of which are good fits for heat pumps.

“But most of them are,” he said, including many mobile homes.

Heat pumps are powered by electricity, but are not electric heat. Heat pump technology works like a refrigerator in reverse, taking heat out of even cold air and converting it to warm air.

To get the maximum benefit from heat pumps, they work best in homes with open rooms where the air and heat can flow from room to room. If a heat pump is in a room that is closed off, the heat does not move through as well through the dwelling.

Good insulation is also advisable for any kind of heat. Efficiency Maine recommends homeowners consider energy audits to explore whether the buildings are well insulated. Insulation does not change how heat pumps work, but it helps retain hot or cold air and increases comfort. 

Information on energy loans, rebates for energy-efficiency upgrades, such as heat pumps and home insulation, and more can be found at www.efficiencymaine.com.

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