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Heating and Cooling

PACE - Heating and Cooling


In New England, building heating and cooling account for roughly one-third of energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. We are highly dependent on fossil fuels for heating, with natural gas and delivered fuels (i.e., oil and propane) accounting for the vast majority of usage. Getting to 100% renewable energy will require two steps:

First, reduce heating and cooling loads through investments in efficiency. Most buildings built before 2000 are inefficient and lose considerable heat in the winter. As outlined in the Efficiency section of the Guidebook, improving the building shell and insulation of all existing buildings is crucial to achieving a renewable future. In the short run better buildings will reduce consumption of whatever fuel is currently being used. In the intermediate to longer run it will enable Connecticut to move away from combustion as a source of heating and towards heat pump technology.

Second, replace fossil fuels with clean, low carbon electricity to heat and cool our buildings. Sometimes called “strategic electrification,” this step entails supplementing and eventually replacing fossil fuel equipment currently used for heating and cooling with heat pumps. Heat pumps are a form of efficient electric heating for both residential and commercial buildings. They use air-to-air exchangers or ground-source loops to transfer heat between the inside and outside of the building. Because they are moving heat rather than generating it through combustion or electric resistance, heat pumps can achieve efficiencies well above 100%. Long used for cooling in warm climates, heat pumps are now able to provide efficient heating in cold climates even at outdoor temperatures as low as -15 °F.

Electrification of heating and cooling brings a range of health benefits to both residents and businesses, including cleaner air, better control of temperature and humidity, improved acoustics (i.e., quieter), lower carbon monoxide risk and reduced risk of fire.

Getting Started

The transition away from boilers, furnaces, and resistance heating to heat pumps has been slow to date. While future developments hold significant promise for heat pumps in both the residential and commercial sectors, there are currently barriers to greater adoption, including:

  • Heating systems turn over slowly (~5% per year) and growth of new construction is low.
  • Residential heat pumps are typically not cost-competitive against natural gas for retrofits due to the relatively low cost of natural gas and high cost of electricity in the region.
  • The technology is not well understood and home heating and cooling systems are more complicated than solar panels or electric vehicles.
  • For older buildings, substantial shell improvements may be required for heat pumps to meet all heating needs. While these improvements are typically an excellent investment, they add to the up-front cost.
  • While performance of cold-climate heat pumps has improved, efficiency declines significantly below 0°F and systems typically shut down below -15°F.
  • Most HVAC installers are tied by experience and tradition to fossil fuel heating and traditional air conditioners.

As a result of these challenges, most residential heat pump installations in the Northeast are not whole-home heating replacement, but supplement existing systems. Such systems can be installed at any time, not only when the entire system needs replacement. And, for such projects, weatherization improvements may not be necessary for the entire house. Other common applications include:

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  • Carry out a Baseline Energy Assessment, including an analysis of the existing building stock to determine what heating fuels are currently used. The resource section provides a sample of how this can be derived from the energy benchmarking study.
  • Engage with PACE on the HeatSmartCT program and develop a campaign aimed at residential buildings that would benefit economically from conversion to heat pumps. HeatSmartCT can assist you to:
    • Recruit a volunteer team to help educate the town
    • Connect with and evaluate local installers
    • Help develop and fund a marketing budget.
  • Promote “HeatSmartCT Lite” educational campaigns on the importance and utility of heat pumps.
  • Hold an educational event for local businesses on commercial heat pump technologies and available financing opportunities (e.g., C-PACE).
  • Lead by example by converting local municipal buildings and school to heat pumps.
  • Review local permitting processes, fees and tax policy regarding energy upgrades to reduce barriers, lower soft costs and incentivize transition to heat pumps.
  • Pass a moratorium on new natural gas service for heating.


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