Zero-emission air-source heat pumps are trending in Juneau

Ray Lindoff poses next to his new air-source heat pump at his home in downtown Juneau on June 5, 2020.
Ray Lindoff poses next to his new air-source heat pump at his home on June 5, 2020, in downtown Juneau Juneau Carbon Offset paid for the system, which will replace his fuel-burning Toyo stove. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Builders, homeowners and nonprofits are increasingly using air-source heat pumps to keep homes in Juneau warm.

Brenwynne Grigg oversees municipal permitting for heat pumps and she said there’s been a consistent increase in installations each year.

The systems are more energy efficient and cheaper to operate than oil burning furnaces and electric baseboards. And if they’re on AEL&P’s hydro-powered grid, their energy use won’t emit harmful greenhouse gases.

On a corner in a downtown Juneau neighborhood, Ray Lindoff has a green yard sign.

“… Anyway, they wanted us to put this up for a couple weeks … They want to advertise!” he said with a laugh.

A Juneau Carbon Offset yard sign stands at the corner of Ray Lindoff's home in downtown Juneau on June 5, 2020.
The Juneau Carbon Offset yard sign at Lindoff’s home marks the nonprofit’s seventh home conversion to an energy efficient, zero-emission air-source heat pump. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

The sign says, “Another home heated with renewable energy courtesy of Juneau Carbon Offset.” That’s a program of the nonprofit Renewable Juneau. The offset fund started collecting donations last summer.

Donors can use a calculator on their website that estimates the greenhouse gas emissions from common activities — like the miles put on a car, or flown on a jet — and what it would cost to offset them. The nonprofit uses those donations to replace oil-burning stoves and furnaces with air-source heat pumps for people with lower incomes.

Heat pumps work like refrigerators, taking heat from inside and transferring it outside to cool a house down. Or the other way around for heating.

Ray Lindoff explains how he got an air-source heat pump installed at his home in downtown Juneau on June 5, 2020.
Ray Lindoff said he found out about the energy efficient heating systems when he saw his neighbor having one installed. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

“It’s like getting a new toy,” Lindoff said. “It even comes with a remote. It’s sitting there, looks nice … So basically, you can set it to heat and leave it alone. … If you put it on a different setting, if it gets too hot outside, it’ll kick on air conditioning by itself. … It’s awesome.”

Lindoff’s heat pump is the nonprofit’s seventh installation. The offset fund has enough money for a few more this year. Board member Andy Romanoff runs the offset fund as a volunteer and said so far, the feedback from converts has been good.

“Really, most are just kind of blown away by the warmth, by the quiet, by the dry air, by the heat, by the reduced bills, by the lack of smell,” Romanoff said.

He said some people feel really good about not using oil, which itself has traveled thousands of miles.

“We’re actually reducing our footprint. And that’s a huge thing for so many people,” he said.

Romanoff said he planned to scale up a lot this summer by marketing to climate-conscious tourists.

“Of course, that market doesn’t exist this year. And so it’s a huge loss for us. We’d set up quite a few pieces of our puzzle, our marketing puzzle to try and capture that market.”

Now he’s looking at 2021.

Renewable Juneau board member Kate Troll is a former Juneau Assembly member. She worked on a plan that set a city goal to reduce the community’s carbon emissions by 80% by 2045. She has some other ideas to scale up.

She said Renewable Juneau wants to get a certification that their offset program does what it claims. That might help them get more funding.

“Because many of the larger players, like, you know, Alaska Airlines or the cruise ships, they like to know that what we’ve created is indeed credible and does result in less carbon and there is tracing and tracking,” Troll said.

For now, the Tlingit and Haida Regional Housing Authority is a bigger player in home heat pump conversions in Southeast Alaska. The housing nonprofit mainly serves tribal members. Project Manager Lorraine DeAsis said, from Saxman to Juneau, it’s tallied 131 air-source heat pump conversions. Federal and state grants pay for their program.

Jeremy Hsieh

Local News Reporter, KTOO

I dig into questions about the forces and institutions that shape Juneau, big and small, delightful and outrageous. What stirs you up about how Juneau is built and how the city works?

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