Heat domes, temperature records, droughts, wildfires, smoky UP air from Canadian fires. On June 29th Lytton, British Columbia (near Vancouver, BC) recorded an all-time Canadian record high temperature of 49.6°C (121 °F). Then, the next day, that town burned in a wildfire! People were evacuated. Some died.
Is this our new normal? When will it end? Likely not in your lifetime. Humans haven’t figured out how to renounce fossil fuel, but have invented a magic pill that, like aspirin, ignores the problem but relieves the symptoms—air conditioning. As the climate changes, areas that rarely used AC before, such as the U.P., are now rushing to beat the heat by installing AC. But read this first!
We are living more like human dairy products, in refrigerated spaces behind closed doors, protected from the overheated environment. We go from refrigerated houses to refrigerated cars to refrigerated workplaces, then a quick stop at a refrigerated store on the way home.
The magic AC pill comes in two colors: Blue (conventional AC) and red (heat pumps).
Blue pill (conventional AC): Cools your house using more electricity. The blue pill makes you feel physically better, but the additional electricity generates more CO2, making the global problem worse!
Red pill (heat pump): Cools your house using more electricity, but the heat pump supplement for your furnace can also heat your house for much of the cool weather seasons as well as heat hot water. It generates more CO2 during hot weather, like AC, yes, but less CO2 in colder weather. Total annual CO2 is significantly less. Here’s why:
AC doesn’t “create cold.” It simply moves heat from inside your house to the outside. Refrigerators move heat from inside the fridge to the kitchen, making the fridge cooler and the kitchen warmer.
Home heat pumps can pump (move) heat either way. In summer, they move heat outside, exactly like AC. In cool weather, heat pumps run the AC backwards, moving heat from outside back inside, even at freezing outdoor temperatures or slightly below.
Heat pumps can heat your home while generating less CO2 than oil, gas, even electric furnaces. Heat pumps use much less energy because they just move heat to where you want it, outside or inside.
But there is a problem. HVAC contractors spend a lot of time talking people out of getting heat pumps. Heat pumps are not what they are accustomed to, so they discourage them in favor of their favorites—fossil heat and traditional AC. That locks customers into another thirty years of fossil fuels. Boo. Bad. We must move away from fossil energy. Electricity is slowly getting cleaner. Fossils never will. We must go all-electric.
Contractors will claim that heat pumps won’t work because there’s little heat to move at -30˚F. That’s true and that’s why I suggest the red pill as a supplement. On those -30˚F days, use fossils if you must. But the rest of the time, with the help of your thermostat or control system, you can use the heat pump.
There is a special cold weather heat pump option–ground-source heat pumps (GSHPs). Ground below the frost line doesn’t freeze. GSHPs can capture enough heat for your house most of the winter. Back-up is only needed on the absolute coldest days. GSHPs cost significantly more but eliminate fossils.
When it comes to home heating, especially if we end up with a carbon tax, as I believe we will, heat pumps are our best solution. We need young HVAC heat pump specialists to start new businesses providing the expertise and equipment needed to install heat pumps cost efficiently, to out-compete stubborn fossil contractors stuck in the fossil fuel era. It’s the smart move.
Steve Waller’s family lives in a wind- and solar-powered home. He has been involved with conservation and energy issues since the 1970s and frequently teaches about energy. Steve can be reached at Steve@UPWallers.net.
Excerpted from the Fall 2021 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2021, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.