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Step 3: Air Source Heat Pumps Myths and Facts

By Mark Adams

This is the third blog in the series on the stairway to Net Zero housing. Net Zero houses produce more energy than they consume. Most homes, regardless of their age, can be upgraded to become Net Zero. But even taking just a few of these steps will enable homeowners to reduce their carbon output as well as save on their monthly utility bills.

This blog will cover electrified heating. Space heating is the largest source of carbon output from our homes, and we must upgrade the majority of our home heating systems from using oil, propane or natural gas if we are going to meet our carbon reduction goals. Also, heating with carbon-based fuels is expensive and converting to electrified heating is a great way to save on your heating bills.

In home assessment

As mentioned in previous blogs, any heating upgrade project should start with a free in-home assessment by a certified professional who will evaluate your home for energy-saving opportunities and provide a custom home energy report outlining your recommended upgrades and any incentives you may qualify for. The report can also provide the names of qualified heat pump installers that service homes in our community.

The Marblehead Light Department offers a Free Home Energy Audit Program. Click on the following link to find the brochure that tells you how to schedule an audit:

National Grid customers for natural gas deliveries are eligible for the energy audit program that is administered by Mass Save. More details can be found here:

Eligibility for the NetZero rebates that are listed below require homeowners to have first had their house inspected by one of their auditors.

Air source heat pump options

  1. Air-to-air heat pumps are the most commonly installed solutions. They provide year-round heating and cooling for a single room or an entire house. They are powered by electricity and use a refrigerant to move heat into (winter) or out of (summer) a house. Since they are only moving heat that is extracted from the environment and not creating new heat, they are exceptionally efficient. Carbon output is reduced by an average of 60% when oil boilers are replaced by heat pumps and 42% when natural gas furnaces or boilers are converted. Air-to-air heat pumps are often used to deliver warm (winter) or cool (summer) air to indoor units which are known as minisplits. These are ductless systems that utilize small lines to carry the refrigerant. Minisplits come in a variety of options that include wall mount, floor mount, and flush ceiling mount. Alternatively, a centralized heat pump can move warm or cool air through a home’s existing ductwork where it can be delivered through registers that are already installed.

  2. Air-to-water heat pumps are another option for homes with boiler systems. They can be installed to replace the boiler and move warm or cool water through the existing plumbing infrastructure to the base board heaters or radiators.

For those who are interested in a deeper dive into how heat pumps actually work, you can find a good explanation here:

Common myths about heat pumps

  1. They don’t operate in very cold weatherThe first generation of heat pumps would struggle to deliver warm air when the outdoor temperature fell below 20F. However, today’s technology enables heat pumps to work at their full capabilities even at very cold outdoor temperatures. Be sure and ask your installer to confirm that the heat pump they propose to you will continue to work even when outside temperatures are sub-zero.

  2. Heat pumps are very expensiveWhile the price of heat pumps can be more than twice as much as a replacement boiler, there are a number of federal and utility offered incentives that will bring the cost down significantly. Also, many manufacturers offer zero interest loans to make the monthly payments very affordable.

  3. Heat pumps are costly to run Just the opposite. Heat pumps are the most efficient way to turn energy into heat (or cooled air during the summer). As a result, their operational costs are much lower. Compared to oil burners, heat pumps cost less than half to generate the same amount of heat and 10 to 20% less than the cost of running natural gas boilers or furnaces.

  4. Heat pumps require wall mounted minisplits that won’t look good in my houseWall mounted minisplits are just one option for delivering the warm (or cooled) air from heat pumps. Also available are floor mounted units, flush ceiling registers and flush wall mounts. In addition, you may be able to utilize the existing radiators or baseboard heaters that are already installed for your boiler system.

  5. Heat pumps need more maintenance than boilersAir source heat pumps are highly reliable and require little to no maintenance outside of an annual service. In the unlikely event that something does go wrong, you have the peace of mind of the manufacturer warranty - just as with a boiler. The typical lifespan of an air source heat pump is between 15-20 years, which is slightly longer, but close to a boiler, which will typically have a lifespan of between 10-15 years.

Advantages of heat pumps

  • Heat pumps are highly efficient at converting energy into heat.

  • Therefore, less greenhouse gas is produced for home heating and cooling.

  • When combined with rooftop solar (next blog), homeowners can reduce their emissions to zero.

  • The monthly energy bills for heat pumps are significantly lower; especially when compared to oil burners.

  • The installation of heat pumps increases the resale value of a house.

  • Heat pumps provide year-round comfort with winter heating and summer cooling.

  • They are available in a variety of installation choices.

  • Each indoor unit operates independently so rooms that aren’t occupied don’t need to be heated

How to find contractors

While not an exhaustive list, the following contractors all have referenceable customers from Sustainable Marblehead members.

You can also ask for a list of recommended heat pump contractors as part of your Home Energy Audit.

Other considerations

  • Make sure that your system will work in very cold temperatures. Ask your contractor to provide the specifications on cold weather performance levels.

  • Additional costs may be incurred for the following: new hot water heater; removal of old equipment (boiler, oil tank, plumbing and registers); electrical panel upgrades; and repair work following removal of registers

  • New hot water heater and electrical panels, if needed, are eligible for federal tax incentives

  • Start getting installer quotes now—don’t wait until your boiler quits! Lead times for new heat pump installations can take a few months.

Financial rebates and tax credits

There are incentives offered by the federal government and local utilities to help homeowners offset the cost of a heat pump installation. Make sure you discuss these available incentives when you get your in-house energy audit.

Federal programs

The Inflation Reduction Act introduced two incentives for heat pumps that are installed on or after Jan 1, 2023. Note, however, that the rules for implementing the first program, the HOMES rebates, are not expected from the Department of Energy until the spring of 2023. Therefore, these contractor rebates will not be available until that time.

The HOMES rebate program provides upfront discounts of up to a maximum of $8,000 for new heat pumps. Lower income taxpayers who earn less than 80% of their Area Median Income can get a rebate of 100% of their heat pump costs up to the $,8000 limit. Moderate income taxpayers who earn between 80% and 150% of their Area Median Income can get a rebate of 50% of their heat pump costs up to the same $8,000 limit. The HOMES rebates will be given to consumers at the point of sale.

The current Area Media Income for Marblehead can be found in the following table*:

*The table above is for the 2022 tax year. This table will be updated in 2023.

The High-Efficiency Electric Home Rebate Act (HEEHRA) provides for a tax credit equal to 30% of the cost of a heat pump with a limit of $2,000 per year. While less generous than the HOMES rebate program, the HEEHRA credit has no income limits so homeowners who fail to qualify for the HOMES rebate may be eligible for this tax credit. Also, low- and middle-income taxpayers who qualify for the HOMES rebate, can still get the HEEHRA tax credit that will be equal to 30% of the remainder of their payment balance up to the $2,000 maximum.

Consult your tax advisor about how you can take advantage of these program to offset the cost of a heat pump installation.

Utility programs

The NextZero program from the Marblehead Light Dept provides an additional $500 rebate for heat pump installations. This is an annual limit so projects that are spread over two years would be eligible for the $500 rebate in each of the years. The NextZero rebate requires the completion of a Home Energy Audit prior to installation. You can schedule your audit by calling 888-333-7525. Marblehead Light also has a discount program for Mitsubishi heat pumps that provides extra rebates that are as high as $600. The forms for the Home Energy Efficiency Rebate and the Mitsubishi Heat Pump Discount can be found here:

Homeowners who are customers of National Grid for natural gas deliveries would do better by applying for a rebate through the Mass Save program. Mass Save will rebate up to $10,000 of the cost of installing a heat pump. There are no income limits for participation. The online site to apply for a MassSave rebate is found here:

Mass Save also offers 0% interest loans of up to $25,000 for the out-of-pocket costs of qualified energy efficient home improvements.

Additional info and applications for the Mass Save rebates can be found here:

Finally, here’s an example. A moderate-income couple (making less than $168,225 in taxable income) upgrades their house in spring of 2023 with a new heat pump system to replace their gas furnace. The contractor price is $40,000. The price gets an upfront discount of $8,000 from IRS HOMES program resulting in a net price paid to the contractor of $32,000. The homeowners can take another $2,000 tax credit when they file their federal income taxes. Since they are customers of Marblehead Light, they can also take another $500 rebate which brings their net cost down from $40,000 to be $29,950. If they’ve also been getting gas from National Grid, they can apply for another $10,000 rebate which will bring their net cost down to $19,950.


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