My Turn: Comfort, economy considerations for more sustainable lifestyle

  • jacoblund jacoblund

Published: 5/28/2021 11:44:00 AM

By CHARLIE MCCRACKEN

I have enjoyed the recent focus on energy efficiency in the Recorder, with Pam Kelley’s column and a recent series of panel discussions. I have worked in the energy efficiency (EE) industry for over 40 years, but never bothered to talk about it when oil was cheap. I have worked in the insulation, solar and HVAC industries, and I would like to comment on some of the recent focus on geothermal/ground source heat pumps (GSHPs) as well as discuss a more economical solution: air source heat pumps (ASHPs).

New England has some of the oldest housing stock in the country, and roughly 80% of these houses are heated by some type of hydronic (hot water) heating system, with baseboard or cast-iron radiators providing the space heat from a boiler into the living space of the house. Converting the distribution system and the fuel source is an extremely expensive proposition, regardless of subsidies or tax credits.

Given an environmentally conscience desire to reduce fossil fuel combustion, a geothermal/ground source heat pump might see like a perfect solution. New England’s rocky soil and small building lots makes deep well geothermal/ground source heat pumps the main option, however, and the deep well cost plus the well pump power requirements, even to a solar electric system owner, can be extremely prohibitive. There are new, closed loop geothermal/ground source heat pump solutions in the market, but that is not the only option.

Air source heat pumps provide an energy efficiency option at a lower price point. While the “mini-split” style air source heat pumps get most of the attention, there can be comfort issues, as I rarely see the wall units in a bathroom.

I would like to see focus on central air source heat pumps, connected to an insulated, sealed duct system. This technology offers comparable energy efficiency to the “mini split” style (as many use the same inverter compressors), but also provide distributed heat and comfort.

I live in a 1952 cape-style home in Greenfield, insulated to the limits of the 2x4 framing, with new windows. I replaced the old duct system, sealed and insulated it, and provide heating and cooling to every room in the house. I can heat this h ouse 90%  of the winter to 70F and if I had a viable solar electric option, it would be very economical. With natural gas heat, I use the air source heat pump to provide my heating to 35F and then switch via the thermostat to natural gas, and it costs the same as heating 100% with gas. This option offsets 50% of my natural gas operation and usage.

There are many options to choose from, with the goal of a more sustainable lifestyle, but comfort and economy must both be considerations.

Charlie McCracken lives in Greenfield.



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