Stowe Electric Department is offering customers some of the largest incentives around to buy cold-climate heat pumps for their homes.

Wait, isn’t it 90 degrees outside?

Despite their name, heat pumps are kind of like your Yeti mug. They provide heat in the winter, but also can be reversed and offer air conditioning during the summer.

Stowe Electric is pairing with Efficiency Vermont to offer customers up to $1,275 off the installation of the modern, efficient technology — $575 from the utility in the form of a rebate and between $500 and $700 from Efficiency Vermont, the latter dependent on income level.

“From what I’m seeing, these units are costing between $2,000 and $3,000, installed,” Stowe Electric’s Matthew Rutherford said.

These pumps work by drawing heat from the environment — air-source pumps gather the heat from the ambient air outside and ground-source pumps draw it from the ground, in the form of geothermal energy.

The technology being touted by Efficiency Vermont and utilities like Stowe Electric Department are cold-climate heat pumps, which means that even in chilly Vermont winters, they’re able to draw heat from the outside air.

Jeff Buell with Efficiency Vermont said the heat pump name is something of a misnomer, and people could benefit from them right now, in these hot and muggy days.

“I think that because the word ‘heat’ is in the name, it gets associated strictly with heating,” Buell said. “But there’s an immediate application.”

Buell said “thousands and thousands” of Vermonters have installed heat pumps in recent years, using incentives from Efficiency Vermont.

Neither Stowe Electric nor Efficiency Vermont actually does the installations, and Buell said there is no one-size-fits-all installation. Some houses are a hundred years old and some are modern. Some are cordoned off room by room, and some have a wide-open room setup — those open-concept homes are particularly good candidates for heat pumps.

Buell and Rutherford said heat pumps probably won’t do the trick on their own, either. They’ll have to be combined with another heat source.

“It's going to be able to cover the majority, like 70 to 85 percent of your heating needs, but on very, very cold days, the efficiency of the heat pump will drop off, and then your propane, your burner, boiler, whatever you have, is going to be able to kind of make up the difference,” Rutherford said. “So then, you might be going from spending all your money on refilling your oil tank every year, and maybe refilling it twice, and now you might not need to refill it at all during the wintertime. Just top it off every fall in anticipation.”

If the heat pump is offsetting baseboard heat sources such as electricity, propane, or fuel oil, the savings would be significantly more than a home heated by natural gas, wood, or pellets.

The cool factor, though, is far more efficient than the typical window-mounted AC unit so commonly dragged out of Vermont basements every summer. They’re also much quieter, almost noiseless.

That’s because the heat pump isn’t cooling the room so much as it’s getting rid of the warmth. By flipping the switch from heating to cooling, the heat pump moves hot air from inside to the outside.

“Have you ever been in a room cooled by a heat pump?” Buell asked. “It’s amazing.”

All of this is made a lot more efficient if your home is already well-insulated, something Efficiency Vermont has made its mission to help with.

Buell said heat pumps can cost about as much to install as other heating sources, but incentives as high as $1,275 off “make these more cost-competitive.”

Heat pumps run off electricity, but Rutherford said they are still a good way to lower one’s carbon footprint, because of how much direct fossil fuel consumption they offset. He said those efficiencies also help the utility’s renewable energy portfolio.

Said Rutherford, “Ideally, if we can help our customers reduce their costs, we can also help them reduce their carbon footprint from their heating needs. And then it also helps us achieve our targets.”

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