122: Pump Up the (heat and the) Jam – Heat pumps!

Matt and Sean discuss letting physics do the heavy lifting via heat pumps in our homes for heat and air conditioning.

Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, “Why Heat Pumps are Essential for the Future – Explained”: https://youtu.be/73qzU8vOc4U?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi5LVxHfWfQE6-Y_HnK-sgXS

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today’s episode of still to be determined. We’re going to talk about whether it’s worth paying a bit more now to ensure you’re doing the right thing for the future, or whether well costs are just too high for you to begin with. So unfortunately you can’t go that route. Hey, everybody. Welcome to still to be determined as usual.

I’m Sean Farrell. I’m a writer. I write some scifi I write some stuff for kids. And I’m also curious about tech. Luckily for me, my younger brother is Matt Ferrell from undecided. We’ve Matt Ferrell, Matt, how you doing? I’m doing pretty well. How about you? It’s a rainy day here in the, uh, New York city area.

But other than that, I’m not complaining today. We’re gonna be talking about why heat pumps are essential for the future explained, which is a title. Somehow confuses me. I don’t know. It’s the explained at the end or I don’t know, but this is from June 7th, 2022. And as you might’ve guessed from the title, we’re going to talk about heat pumps, heat pumps, all the way, baby.

That’s right. As I like to say, heat pump up the jam at, oh, Sean, I couldn’t help it. Yup. So try a lot harder. Yeah. To start us off, you’re effectively taking your, this sounds to me like it’s basically taking an approach of passive physics, providing, heating, and cooling that it’s just, you’re not forcing anything into a system that isn’t already there.

You’re just moving what’s in one place to another place and that’s taken care of the work. Do I have it and nutshell it in, in an, in a nutshell, more passive than a classic, like a, a gas powered heating system or a AC system, which is going to be actively well, the thing to keep in mind is, or refrigerator is.

And air conditioner is a heat pump. It’s just a one-way heat pump. The heat pumps I’m talking about are like two way. So you can cool and you can heat a space. It’s just which way you’re pumping that heat where refrigerators only pumping the heat outside of the box to make the inside super cold. It’s this is can go either way.

That’s a very helpful clarification for me because I spent most of this video thinking what’s a heatpump

I failed

just a few comments that were in the comment section on YouTube. One of them that stood out for me from, and six, who wrote about the video itself, you weren’t lying when you were hyping up your animation team. Once again, however you hired them to do the animations that are so good at making credible visuals that they’re easy to understand.

I really do think they add a lot and understanding these concepts for visual. Massive kudos to the overall fine level of detail. So just wanted to give a shout out to you and your entire team. I’m putting together a really well done visual video. Well, so a lot of the visuals, we didn’t create some D some, we did some, we didn’t, so it’s like.

It kind of comes down to the places that we’re sourcing them from. It’s like, there’s a lot of good materials out there. And I also have a really good team. That’s good on creating them as well as finding them. So yeah, those are made by the manufacturers of these systems that you’re talking about.

There’s a fair number. It’s like, you’d be surprised. It’s a lot of these heat pump companies are trying to convey this very complex idea. So a lot of these animations are from the companies that make that thing. And do you see a skewing in one direction or the other, where are these manufacturers looking largely at homeowners or are they looking at corporate larger spaces?

I imagine that this might be effected by scale in a very difficult way for larger spaces to incorporate this technology. It seems to me like this would be more on the scale of a home. So, or do they tend to be marketing themselves more directly to individual consumers like yourself? Th they market it in different ways.

Like most of the animations and the promo materials that we found that we could use in the video are geared towards consumers. And I think the reason that we see more of that is because most consumers. Completely understand what a heat pump is. They may have heard, oh, heat pumps don’t work. And it’s just a meme that has gone on for the past 30 years.

But things have changed over the past couple of decades and the heat pumps are really good. Now it can go work in really cold temperatures, but yet there’s still that pervasive belief of how it doesn’t work. So these companies have to market to consumers to try to reeducate people to understand, no, you, you, you really should consider this.

It was the temperatures. So like, I remember you and I, I remember there was time. I can’t remember which house we were living in, but mom and dad had to get a new something done with the furnace and they were talking about how heat pumps don’t work. And they knew somebody that had a heat pump. And when it got super cold outside, it couldn’t keep the house warm enough.

So they were always too cold in the middle of winter. And that’s, that’s the kind of thing that I’m talking about. It’s that if it gets down to 20 degrees or 15 degrees outside, I’m talking Fahrenheit, not Celsius, you’re talking about in 30 years ago, a heat pump might struggle. And so inside your house, it might be 65, but you want to take it to 70 or 72 and it can’t quite get there.

It’s struggling to get you to the temperature that you want it to be at. Right. That’s really not the case anymore. There are heat pumps, heat pumps work all the way down to like negative 15 degrees or more. But they have to use more energy to create it. So that, that in the video, I talked about the cop of three to five, where you’re getting like 300% return on the amount of electricity.

You’re putting it in. When the colder, it gets that cop drops. So it’s like, if you got down to that negative 15 degrees outside you, your cop might be one or something like that. So it’s not that they can’t get you the temperature you want inside, but the efficiency drops. And what about the opposite? Are heat pumps?

Have they just always been more efficient in warm weather? As far as air conditioning is concerned? I mean, you mentioned. Effectively ACS and refrigerators are heat pumps. So is this a thing where it was always seen as like, well, when hot weather they work great, but in cold weather, there are no. I mean, there is a, there is a cap where they can’t really keep up on the hot end of things, but you’re talking incredibly high temperatures.

So yes, in general, they tend to work better in hotter climates than they do in colder climates. But again, that’s not really the case anymore. So like in my house that I’m working on building, I’m going to be getting a geothermal system and. It’s going to be rated to something like, I can’t remember what it is.

It’s negative 15 degrees Celsius. And they gave me this entire like spreadsheet showing what the, what the temperatures are, what the cop will end up being at those temperatures. And that I might want to get like a, an additional resistive heater installed. At like the most extreme temperatures, if I want to make sure that I’m getting to the temperature I want.

So they were talking about like, you know, when it gets super cold, it’s going to keep your house warm, but it may not be the temperature you want it to be. So you might want to do this, but it also depends on how their size in the system. And I got different quotes from different geothermal companies. And one was saying, you need to get a geothermal, I mean, uh, uh, uh, additional heat heater for those two or three days a year where it gets crazy cold.

And then another company I’m dealing with water furnace, the system they’re putting in is actually a more efficient system. And so I don’t need to get a resistive heater at all. It, this, this system I’m getting put in will be able to handle the entire full temperature range year round for the area I live in with no problems.

And so you’re talking about Sub-Zero temperatures and my systems going to be just fine. I wanted to share this comment from Julia Nugent who wrote. Yes, I am all in on heat pumps. As an architect, I’ve been involved with both air source and ground source over the years. And here’s my take on the two ground source is more efficient and will last longer, but installs are complex because you’re never a hundred percent sure on condition until you start drilling or digging.

Air source are much more predictable, but I worry about sending hot air back into the environment in urban settings, contributing to heat island effect. Have you heard of heat island? Before. Yes, you have in a place where you, I know you live in a place. You want to talk about it. Yeah. This may be a bad way to describe it, but anyway, it’s like thinking about a city, all the concrete and the pavement and the buildings during the day, it’s super heating.

It’s capturing the, the stone, the pavement, the concrete is absorbing all that heat and hangs onto it. Then overnight, it’s just like, Radiating the never ending heat. So it’s like if you’re in a city on a hot day, it actually feels hotter than it would be if you lived out in the suburbs or out in a rural area.

So there’s this heat island effect of, if you are, if everybody had heat pumping, they’re all pumping that heat from the inside of their house to the outside of the house is going to make that work. From what I have seen that is not the case. This is not going to impact local climate because you’re not adding heat.

You’re just moving it. So it’s not like the sun is actually increasing the temperature of the buildings and the concrete. And I would also add to that when you have those high temperatures, people are running their ACS more. And so you end up with the heat generated from the air conditioning units. Yeah, they get physically hot.

So it’s all of that is, um, yeah, I can absolutely testify. I can absolutely testify to that. Mid July to mid August at night, you go outside and you’re like, why is the ground so gross? And it’s that heat heat radiating through your sneakers. It’s not a comfortable feeling. It doesn’t, it doesn’t add to the joy of being in a city during the summer.

Yeah, he pumps should not make that heat island effect worse. That’s kind of what I was seeing and all the research I’ve done on this. It’s it’s not going to help. It’s not gonna make it worse. It’s just kinda like, it probably is going to be more of just like, like a six of one, half a dozen, the other.

Right. But that’s, as Julia’s pointing out, that’s only for air sourced, heat pumping the alternative being ground. So that’s when you’re drilling down into the ground and you’re pulling. Is it the, is it groundwater? Where’s your circulating groundwater? No, it can be. It can be, there are geothermal systems that do that.

You can have a vertical, well, or you can have a horizontal, well, where you basically dig six feet down or something like that. And then you put a coil and then you just put the dirt back on top of it, or you drill hundreds of feet straight down, and then you put basically a. That goes way down the well, and then goes back up the, well, that’s what I’m having done.

My house is going to have to drill. I think it’s 320 feet straight down and just has to be one. Well, so one tube that will go down then come back up and what, and then there’s a fluid that gets pumped through that tube. And so as the, the earth. Hundreds of feet down is a constant temperature all year round.

So you’re basically just moving the heat from inside your house and dropping it into the earth, which is actually cooling that tube down so that the cool air comes back up for air conditioning or in the winter. It’s actually heating that tube up deep into the earth and the heat, the hotter fluid has come back into the house, getting compressed and vaporized and turned into heat.

And for the house, are you going to have some sort of. What was that? Are you going to have some sort of backup system in case these systems don’t work to the level that you’re hoping? Nope. And what happens if the drilling down and then they hit oil? Are you going to close your YouTube channel and just get a large 10 gallon hat and become an oil Baron?

Yeah. Yes, that’s exactly. What’s going to happen. I’ll start working on the environment. I’m going to start selling my wine. I’ll start. Working on the song. Let me tell you a story about a man named Matt.

There was this comment from Simon Moore, presumably you’re planning to insulate your house to passive house standards. So you should need very little additional heating. In which case it might be much more cost-effective and simpler to maintain, to use simpler infrared panels. Also, you might consider using a simple airing cupboard to dry cloth slowly and efficiently, rather than using a tumble dryer.

Are you going to those lengths where you’re, you’re looking at alternatives for everything from like how you’re drawing your clothes to, you know, using infrared paneling in that way, I’m not going to be using infrared paneling. I actually did look into that when you look at. Um, if you ever been to a restaurant or a bar that has outside seating and it’s kind of cool and they have these giant like pillars with these heater, things that are kind of like up above you, that keeps you warm in that area.

That’s an infrared heater. Okay. So there are these infrared panels that you can get. That looked like a painting that might be on your wall or something like that or a mirror. But what I was actually doing is it’s irradiating the area with heat and it emulates sunlight. So when sunlight hits your skin, you feel warm, but it’s actually not warming the air.

It’s really kind of weird. Okay. So the air temperature in your room could be 55 degrees or 60 degrees, but you feel all nice and toasty, warm because you’re getting baked in this light. But when you look at the energy efficiency, it does not match geothermal heat. So it’s like if you’re talking on a heat pump that has three to five cop, these do not have that.

So it’s much closer to that. It’s not one-to-one, it is better than that, but it’s not, it doesn’t come close. So it’s like, you are going to use a little more energy, even though you can keep the air temperature low. So you can use it as a supplemental system. So I could have a geothermal system. That’s keeping the house at 60 degrees instead of 70.

And then you have these panels around the house that are only turned on when you’re in a room. So in theory, you’re saving energy because you only need to use it at targeted times, but it’s like, for me, that’s like, it’s a step too far. It’s like that’s diminishing returns because my house is going to be super insulated, super energy.

I had one HVAC guy say to me, your house is going to be so energy efficient. It’s the kind of thing where you could light a couple candles in a room. And after they’ve been burning for 20 minutes, you will feel the difference. It’s like, that’s how efficient this house was going to be. So at that point, it’s like using these infrared panels.

It’s like, no, it’s just, that’s, it’s going to be completely unnecessary. When I visit you, I should anticipate this. It’s going to be lit like a Zen monastery. It’s just kind of candles everywhere. Yeah. Sit on the pillow on the floor shine. Like, was that a gong sound kit? Where did that come from? Is that your wife?

Would you like some green tea? There was this comment. And again, just a reminder, everybody jumping into the comments we love hearing from you. We love getting responses to previous videos and we love weighing in on the current stuff like this one from Hrdy VanderMeer. Who wrote great video. Thank you for it.

The cooling gases used in heat pumps are often a hundred times more greenhouse, potent than CO2. So they must be very carefully installed and disposed of at the end of their life. I thought that’s an important thing to mention. And I was wondering in your research, do you, have you seen the same thing as, uh, that commenters pointed out?

Are these chemicals that are. Yeah. Going to be more impactful in the environment. And what is the long-term management around that? Yes. And in the video I talked about, Kimra what the number is. It’s like our 1, 2, 3, a or something. I can’t remember the exact number of the fluid and several commenters pointed out that there’s actually a different one.

Now that’s called R two something. I’m blanking on the number on that one too. I believe it is, but it’s more efficient. It’s, it’s, it’s, it’s better at colder temperatures, but there’s also differences in the chemical makeup of what it is, uh, to make it a little more environmentally friendly. But yes, these are it’s like, if you remember, we used to freeze.

Yeah. I used to be in all these air conditioners and it actually turned out to be a bad thing for like the ozone. And so we moved away from Freon. The same thing is happening with these different coolant mixtures that we have now, where we no longer really use Freon, we’ll use different things. So yeah, you do have to properly dispose of it.

But when you’re talking about it’s a hundred times worse than CO2, it’s also when it’s probably disposed of, it’s not an issue at all. So it’s, it’s a controllable substance. There’s proper regulations around it. We can, we can manage this. It’s not something that we have to become overly concerned about as long as we’re doing things the right way and have the proper guidance and requirements around all of this kind of stuff.

So my final question goes back to my opening statement and there were a few commenters in the same vein. There was one person who said he agreed with everything you said about. The efficacy of heat pumps. The problem is the upfront costs and the maintenance, the running of it is just more than natural gas.

And so he’s in a position where he’s like the cost of natural gas is just cheaper for me than what this would be. So I wanted to get your feedback on. Costs is that a universal truth or is that, does that sound to you? Like there’s something going on regionally where the cost of natural gas in one area might be cheap enough, but in another area that’s not going to add up to the same numbers.

Yeah, that sounds very regional. To me. It probably depends heavily on what his natural gas prices are and what his electricity prices are in his specific area. Yeah, for me, I looked at going throw them all in my current house. And I might get my current heat has natural gas. And when I looked at the numbers and looked at the differences that it would be, it was not going to be financially viable for me to go geothermal because natural gas prices are so cheap.

The cost of putting the system in, when you did like the, or the next 15, 20 years, it’s not going to be that huge of a difference. And so it’s kind of like a, it’s not really worth that extra cost for my new house. I don’t have a system. I have to get a system. And so it was kind of like, so I’m going in, I’m going in fresh.

And when you look at the numbers from that perspective, it obviously does make sense for me to go like air source, heat pump, or geothermal. So in that case, it was a no-brainer where I would kind of push back on him. It depends on what he’s comparing because there are air source, heat pumps that are extremely affordable upfront, and.

Would unless its electricity prices are super expensive. Like if it’s natural gas is cheap, but his electricity is expensive. It’s like, unless that is the case, I would kind of push back and say, he probably has not priced out all the different options that are out there, but for something like a thermal chance in his situation, he’s probably right.

That it wouldn’t make sense. And if you were to give guidance around, like where could somebody go to see numbers to be able to crunch those numbers? Where would you. Oh, boy, that’s tough. That’s really tough. Um, maybe that’s part of the difficulty here is there’s not a centralized place to be able to compare these numbers.

Yeah, I can’t it’s it’s still not public, but there’s a company that I’ve dealt with a lot that does things around solar. They’re working on a kind of a heat pump guide that might help with this kind of thing. Um, If, depending on your state, like here in Massachusetts, there’s a, pro-con called mass, save mass, save has calculators and things that can help you figure out if it’s going to be worth it for you and what the benefits are and what the costs are, and if there’s rebates and all that kind of stuff.

So there might be something for your specific state and location that might have guides, but it’s going to be very regional. There really is. No good. I’ve never found one, a good kind of. Countrywide, Hey, go here and just plug in your numbers and you’ll get some interesting information. It’s I haven’t seen one of those quite yet.

That’s unfortunate. Maybe that’s a million dollar idea that you and I should follow up on. Yes. So listeners, let us know. Where do you land on this? Are you willing to pay more for the overall. Upfront the way Matt is because you’re building a new home. Are you in a current home where the upfront costs are just too much to transfer over?

What do you think about all of that? And what do you think could be done about that? Do you think this is a place where more governmental programs and rebates to incentivize transition would be worth it? Let us know in the comments, or you can find the contact information in the podcast description.

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