The U.S. has slowly been making the shift toward electrical systems in place of gas, whether in our vehicles or in our homes. In addition to being more environmentally friendly, electrical systems tend to be much more energy and cost-efficient. Since statistics indicate that 81% of consumers research products — like their HVAC units — online before making a purchase, it’s no surprise that electrically-powered heat pumps are becoming increasingly popular.
No More Gas For Mass
On a large scale, nearly 9,000 households in Massachusetts are now considering making the switch to electric. After aging natural gas lines exploded and set fires in the cities of Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover in mid-September, thousands of homes were left without gas connections. This means they’ll have no heat, hot water, or the use of their stoves (provided they’re gas stoves) until the Columbia Gas Company repairs the 48 miles of pipeline. However, it isn’t expected to be up and running until mid-November, and many experts claim that’s an extremely optimistic timeline.
In response to environmental advocates pushing for a change, Columbia gas has offered to reimburse “reasonable costs” for those who lost gas service and want to switch to a separate heating source; unfortunately, the switch could be in the wrong direction, toward high-polluting fuel oil.
“The choice is open to the customer whether they want to go back to the 19th century or go into the 21st century,” said Nathan Phillips, acting director of the Sustainable Neighborhood Lab at Boston University. Phillips and other sustainable development advocates are pushing heavily for heat pumps — and the positives may be enough to sway any skeptics: essentially air conditioners that run in reverse in the winter, heat pumps require roughly one-third the amount of energy as natural gas or other heat sources.
“There is a lot of heat energy in the air even in winter, and these heat pumps can capture that heat and move it indoors very efficiently,” said Paul Eldrenkamp, a consultant on passive houses and deep energy retrofits who heads the DEAP Energy Group in Newton, Massachusetts. Though heat pumps are more expensive than furnaces or boilers (that run on natural gas), they are cheaper than oil or propane. If they experience yearly routine maintenance from a professional, heat pumps can last 40% longer, just like AC units. Plus, they offer peace of mind to those whose homes were damaged and lives were threatened by the ruptured gas lines.
As positive as a heat pump revolution would be for the Andover, Lawrence, and North Andover communities, it is impossible to say what the 9,000 families will decide. The most important thing is that they are safe and protected from those cold winter winds, and are able to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas in a warm and cozy home.