Heat Pumps Get Us to Net Zero

As the price of energy rose and rose the search for alternatives to boilers became more urgent. Heat pumps became more and more appealing; their ability to collect free thermal energy made them much more efficient than an oil boiler. Because the sun would never send us a bill (I think I coined this phrase twenty years ago but I’m sure someone thought of it before me), we could spend one dollar on electricity to run the heat pump, and the sun would give us three dollars of solar energy for free, and we could heat our houses with four dollars’ worth of heat.

As more and more people became aware of heat pumps, more and more of our customers turned to us for our insight and expertise on how to use heat pumps in their buildings.

We scrambled for a bit to get up to speed on what heat pump approaches were robust and efficient, but we ultimately built our business on this expertise.

We have installed quite a few geothermal heat pump systems of all kinds (I still have DX geo at my house) and rescued quite a few poorly installed geothermal systems.

The first generation of air source heat pumps struggled in the middle of winter but over time these heat pumps became more and more efficient.

With modulation from inverter-driven compressors they now approach the efficiency of geothermal at a greatly reduced installation cost.

Heat pump water heaters had been experiments from the Jimmy Carter days—they were also in my old engineering books dating back to the 1940s—but now they have matured into a very robust and efficient way to heat domestic hot water.

The Land of Net Zero – Free Heating, Cooling, and DHW

The huge push to pivot from fossil fuels to a non-carbon future presents tremendous challenges and opportunities. What will the role of mechanical contractors be? Will we fight change or embrace it? Will we be the experts and voices of reason and progress, or will we end up on the wrong side of history?

Fortunately, there is a happy intersection of being fossil free, saving the baby seals, lower operating costs, and saving money, and that is the land of net zero!

By enlarging our vision of what an HVAC system can look like, we can provide not only the heating, cooling, and DHW production but also the means to pay for its operation. It boggles the mind, especially starting my career installing oil boilers, that we could install systems provided free heating, cooling, and DHW! Not something you can do with a fossil-fueled boiler.

NMD Net Zero Project

As forward-thinking mechanical contractors, we had to put our money where our mouths were and practice what we were preaching. Was Net Zero really realistic? Could it be done with an existing building that was built in the 1980s? Could we really power the entire building just from the free energy from the sun? What better place to demonstrate that than to make our own shop, office, and staff housing building net zero?

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