223: Transforming Heat Pumps – Is This a Good Idea for the Future?


Matt and Sean talk about new transforming window-based heat pumps, the costs, and the hopes it has for the future of electrification. It’s a clever idea, but is it worth the cost?

Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, Why This Window Heat Pump Is Genius https://youtu.be/KNlDu_ZHIo8?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi7uzySCXq8VXhodHB5B5OiQ

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Hi everybody, on today’s episode of Still to be Determined, we’re going to be talking about what renters might do to bring their HVAC into the 21st century. And we’ll also be talking about the costs associated with that, which right now do seem exorbitant to most of the people in our comments. So we’ll get into that in a little bit. As usual

I’m Sean Ferrell. I’m a writer. I write some sci fi. I write some stuff for kids. And I’m just generally curious about tech. Luckily for me, my brother is that Matt from Undecided with Matt Ferrell, which takes a look at emerging tech and its impact on our lives. Matt, I think I already know the answer to this one.

How are you doing today? I’m

doing great. I will say one thing, beautiful weekend right now, absolutely gorgeous weather. I’m just bracing myself. I hope you are too, Sean. We’re going to be in a massive heatwave next week. It’s going to be like 102 degrees Fahrenheit here next week.

Yeah, it’s, it’s been a lovely weekend so far and spent a good portion of it outside yesterday and hope to do the same thing today.

And Matt and I are sitting down and recording this video. We tried to start early, which God bless us, we tried to start early and then technical difficulties have delayed us. So we’re practically starting at normal time. And if it looks a little bit like Matt and I aren’t responding to each other visually, it’s because we actually can’t see each other right now.

We’re having an ex No, we can’t. We’re doing old style radio recording right now where we’re both just a voice to the other person. So we’ll see how this works out.

As I mentioned at the top of the recording, we’re going to be talking about Heat pumps and a model of heat pump that is effectively like, it looks like the most massive old school flip phone or a transformer that doesn’t do much other than just turn into an U shape or an L shape, but it is a new style of heat pump that could be used in apartments to both heat and cool at a more affordable and efficient level for,

it doesn’t have to be apartments it could be any building that could take it into the window, but it’s a new style and it’s a new mindset that I think we’re going to be talking about. So we’ll get to that in a little bit. But first we always like to jump back to our previous episode and take a look at your comments.

And from last week’s episode, episode 222, in which we discussed robot lawnmowers, of which Matt has two and he likes to battle them in his driveway. There were lots of comments about just, Lawn care, and Just the aspects of environmental impact that we’ve talked about week after week. And there were comments that pointed out some of the gaps in my knowledge, like this one from Carl Flatow, who says, Sean, perhaps I can help with your confusion about bees being in trouble.

We talked about that very briefly. How a couple of years ago it was, Oh my God. The bees. What are we going to do about the bees disappearing? And then a couple of years go by and everybody’s like, ah, the bees are fine. Carl points out, yes, there have been articles talking about honeybees being too numerous, not at risk.

That’s true, but honeybees are just one out of, and this is a staggering number, 20, 000 bee species. The other bees are most of which nest in the ground or being destroyed by chemicals we use, including fertilizers. He also points out, Matt, You don’t need to let your yard go wild. Switch to no maintenance ground cover like clover.

Ditch the chemicals and the mowing. And for your information, the link to the comments, that’ll leave that out. So he points out a couple of the gaps in our knowledge. Thank you so much for jumping in Carl with that. It’s another reminder that There’s a lot of, there’s too much information for one person to have.

There’s too much information for even two people to have. It really does take a village. And we thank you all for jumping in with your information that you have on these topics. It’s really, really tremendous. There was also this comment that jumped out to me from Ian who wrote in to say, moving to California solved my mowing problems.

The redwoods keep the sunlight down from October to March to the point where the grass doesn’t grow that much. The rain stops in May, meaning no water for lawns from May to October. So the lawn only really grows in April and May. So I mow maybe two to three times a total for the year. We decided to grow a native wildflower meadow instead of a lawn.

So I just cut it once in late June to keep the wildfire risk down. Then I’m done for the year. It’s really. Matt, this struck me as a context is king moment. Uh, not everybody is going to be in exactly the same boat. And when you have an opportunity like Ian seems to have, which is to say going back to this style of a little more, uh, wild and a little more.

So, just taking my hands off of the need for a lawn is working out perfectly for him. And in other contexts like yours, you felt like, well, going wild is not going to be something that my neighbors are going to appreciate and it’s actually not going to be necessarily good for me and my lawn either. It’s a nice reminder that context is going to drive a lot of choices.

What’s interesting is a lot of this feedback spurred conversations with my wife. We had some conversations about this kind of stuff. We have some neighbors down the street that they still have a lawn, but it’s much smaller than you’d expect because they’ve done huge portions of their front yards and their backyards and side yards are using Native local species of plants that are, they’re curated.

It’s not like they just let it go wild, but it’s got ground cover that’s not grass. That still looks really nice. And they of course never have to mow it because it only grows a few inches high and then stops. So it’s, um, we had a conversation about that, that we’re going to probably start modifying our yard over the next year or so.

Well, we’re going to look for areas where we can do that, start deliberately planting things that will kind of take care of itself and be more localized. But that California comment’s a perfect example of context is key. It’s where you live, doing things in your area that make sense for your yard. Um, I really appreciate all the feedback.

Yep. There was also this comment from Daniel Boger who came in to say, in the 1990s, I saw my first robot mower at a farm expo in Iowa that looked like someone took the mowing deck off of a mower and slapped a solar panel on it. I’ve been waiting 30 years for these things to get a reasonable price. I think they seem cool, but are still way too much money.

I’m curious, Matt, the kind of mower that you might see at a lawn expo would be potentially one of the big boys. It’d be one of the ones that at a larger scale than the one you have. Can you remind us what the sort of price range of the ones for your style and your size yard versus the ones that would be the industrial scale for the kind of robot machinery that we’re talking about?

Oh man,

for robot mowers, the size that I’ve got, you’re going to, with the systems that I’ve got using the GPS satellites and all that kind of stuff, you’ll find them for. Anywhere from a thousand dollars all the way up to in that four or five thousand dollar range at the high end. If you’re not needing the GPS and you want to do the ones that you bury a wire, you can find those for like 500 bucks.

Um, but they’re meant for more residential sized yards. If you want to get into the larger scale stuff, you’re talking 5, 000 plus, 10, 000 plus. Um, but then if you’re just talking about like those large kind of like, they’re called zero turn mowers, which they look like a blast to drive. Those things where you stand up, you can pick those up for a few thousand dollars.

You don’t stand up, you’re still sitting down, but it’s, it’s like driving like a tank. So imagine like you’ve got like. You know, the two levers. And if you just pull them in opposite directions, you just in place, just turn in place, right? Yeah. You spin. So they’re, they’re really, really cool. Uh, my yard, of course, is nowhere near big enough for that.

And if you have a yard that’s big enough for that, you probably shouldn’t have a lawn. We had, we had discussions about that, but zero tune mowers can be kind of expensive, especially if you get into the electric, they get thousands and thousands of dollars.

Finally, two comments that I thought were great, uh, reality reminders for me.

One from Reality’s successor who jumped in to point out my math was wrong. For Matt’s yard, which he said was roughly a third of an acre, that’s 14, 500 square feet. So even subtracting the footprint of the house, the mower would be much cheaper than gravel. I appreciate the reminder reality successor. My math being wrong could have led me down a really, really rough path if I owned a home and was actually in the process of trying to gravelize the entire thing.

Luckily for me, I’m not doing that. There was also this from Gooker, Gooker Papa, who. Pointed out, this is something that didn’t come up in our conversation, Matt. I’m surprised it didn’t. It’s so obvious if you want a sustainable automatic mower with built in composting feature. Get yourself a pet goat.

You’re welcome. That’s right, Buka. Goats are a solution and goats are a terrific solution for a lot of problems. And the more communities think in terms of, well, what is a clearly environmentally friendly solution to this problem and engage in that kind of thinking, the better. There was In Prospect Park here in Brooklyn, an area that had been severely damaged by the hurricanes that came through a little more than a decade ago and massive amounts of trees and bushes had been knocked down and then they couldn’t clear them out easily just because of the location in the park and it became severely overgrown and they were having trouble figuring out how do we redevelop this.

They brought in a team. of I believe it was five goats and they had this entire area cordoned off with fencing and then they just put the goats in there and the goats were five goats. There were three different types of goat and the three different types of goat ate different types of things. So there was a goat that was like, I’ll eat anything, including sticks.

And then there was the goat that was like, I eat the leafy leaves off of the plants. And then there was the goat that was like, I eat the low grass off the ground. So they put these goats in this fenced area and they were there for about four months And then the goats went away and the underbrush and everything was cleared out and it was great.

So, go goats. Truly, the greatest of all time.

On now to our discussion about Matt’s most recent. This is his video, Why This Window Heat Pump is Genius, which dropped on July 11th, 2024. And as I said, the visuals of this, I just kept thinking of magnificent flip phones. This thing opens up from a U shape into kind of an L shape, allowing you to install it.

And the videos truly did look like just installing the strangest shape to an air conditioner unit that I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t look like it’s highly technical in a lot of ways. I found myself thinking this looks like it would be safer to install than some air conditioning units that I myself have installed, where as I’m doing it, I’m thinking, if I let something slip, this thing is tumbling out the window and there’s no stopping it.

This thing looked like it’s almost. Designed so that as you’re putting in, the center of gravity is so low and the shape of it, it’s going to keep itself. It wants to be in the window as opposed to tumbling outwards. So I thought that that was great, but a lot of the conversation wasn’t about. Huh.

Ingenious design. It wasn’t about like, finally we can heat and cool with one device. It was, are you kidding me? This costs how much? So let’s tackle that as our first point. I wanted to share some comments like this one from Rogue who wrote, I don’t understand why these would be so much more expensive. $3,000 for an AC that can run in reverse?

Isn’t it just a couple of extra valves and a tad more electronics? I could see a thousand dollars, but three times that feels like it’s priced high just to eat federal subsidies. I’m curious. I don’t know of a, I, and maybe I’m naive. I’d like to think that this wouldn’t happen. Um, I just don’t understand the economics of a company saying, well, we’re selling this to the government or the government is subsidizing it.

So we’re going to jack up the price. Is that something that you know of having happened? Is there a program where it has been artificially inflated because people are getting government subsidies?

I can’t name any offhand, but I’m sure that has happened at some point. In relation to this specifically, I can kind of understand how people are getting there because the way that the NYCHA put this program together, they had set requirements for what they needed this device to do.

The reason it folds is that was kind of a requirement of we need something that’s easy to install, safe to install. And so all of these requirements ended up in this place. That’s why we ended up with this design that we got. They set also a target of We don’t want this to cost more than $3,000. And so by saying that you could see how a company would be like, Oh, yeah, this costs $3,000, even though it only costs $1,500 for them to make.

Right. So you could see why that might be. Believed out there. I have no idea if that’s true. Nobody does. You can be skeptical if you want to put it in your skeptical pants and believe that that’s what’s happening here on the point of the cost. It is crazy expensive. Yes. I personally don’t think it should be that expensive either.

One of the things I, after the publishing of the video, I also heard from a lot of people that are engineers that work in the AC industry or the HVAC industry and have some really good knowledge about this stuff. And they basically told me to reinforce, it’s not just slapping a reversing valve in this thing and you got a heat pump.

Why is it three times the cost? It’s way more complicated than that. So a lot of people were commenting about how all you do is add a reversing valve and you have a heat pump. It’s more complicated than that. I’m not saying that’s $2,000 more complicated than that, but it’s, you have to take into account that.

These are going to be used in the winter and the condensers on the outside of a building. And when it gets below freezing, those condensing units literally will freeze up and get a layer of ice built around them. So you have to build in systems that will heat up that condensing unit to keep it from icing up like that.

There’s many ways you can do that, but that’s something they have to take account for that is not in an AC unit. So it’s like there’s an additional cost there. Somebody else that reached out to me pointed out that from the illustrations of the folding mechanism, there were some, uh, gas inlets, and he said from his job, he knows each one of those costs between $50 and $100, and it has two of them.

So he said, that could be 200 a parts, just for the folding mechanism. So he was saying, he was pointing out to me that there’s a whole bunch of reasons why this is so much more expensive than you would expect. to meet the requirements that the NYCHA put out. So it’s not necessarily, these companies are gouging the government.

It’s there’s more engineering and more things required in this than you might expect was what I was hearing from a bunch of different people. Um, so that’s something we all have to keep in mind. It’s like, we can armchair quarterback this and go, it’s not worth that. But the only thing to keep in mind is, these are probably there’s, they’re only making 20,000 units or 10,000 units for this program.

So that’s a pretty low manufacturing run where they can pump out 500, 000 AC units in a manufacturing run. So it’s like just the sheer size and scope of that manufacturing means it’s going to be cheaper per unit. So that’s another thing that plays into this. So, uh, This is an early version of this new system, so it’s going to be more expensive.

And hopefully if these work and catch on, they’d be manufacturing more of them, which means the per unit price would drop all those kinds of things. So there’s a lot of complications and variables as to why this is expensive, but yes, it is crazy expensive.

It’s also useful, I think, to remember there’s the RD, you know, research and development costs.


Um, and a company like these that we’re talking about is going to want to recoup that earlier in case this doesn’t continue. So if they put in a certain amount of money mm-hmm. into the R&D, and they think, oh, we can make this many units and we need to make sure that we are covering the R&D costs and making a profit, then it’s gonna be this price.

And then five years from now we can cut that price in half. Because the R& D will have been taken care of. And we also need to keep in mind that it’s easy for us to get accustomed to prices of things based on tech that has been around for decades. And the production of those things is almost nil. So the prices that we become accustomed to, I remember when Matt and I were kids and early teens we didn’t have an AC unit in our home because air conditioning units were so expensive.

Now you can go to Target or Walmart or Costco and buy a cheap wall unit for 95 bucks. The same thing happened with like VCR players or DVD players where When they first emerged on the market and it was $500 to be able to watch a movie in your own home off of videotape. And then it reached the point where it was, would you like a free VCR when you buy this cup of coffee?

We can’t give these things away. And the tech involved actually became cheaper. It went from being metal tool and die to plastic. And then you end up with the feeling that it’s almost disposable. I watched a, I know this channel is one that you’re familiar with, Matt, and I can’t think of it.

It’s a gentleman who talks about like everyday tech in our homes and how it works. And he just kind of like breaks down things like your coffee maker. What is your coffee maker doing?

Technology Connection. Yes,

that is it. It is a great channel. He’s very amusing and he is taking a look, literally just like looking around the room and saying like, how does that work?

Let’s talk about it. And his episode about coffee makers is astounding because he’s like, here’s a current state of the art coffee maker that might cost you 200 if you buy it at Bed, Bath & Beyond, and it actually has nothing different than the Mr. Coffee, which costs 35 bucks. Why? And it is looking at the inner workings of a machine that we’re not even quite sure what it’s doing, but we know it works.

So it must be worth whatever we paid for it. And in some cases we overpay for a brand name or we overpay for nice style or a cutting edge, or it’s got stainless steel on the outside instead of black plastic. And that doesn’t happen immediately out of the gate. Here we have a new style of heat pump. We have a new device, a brand new thing.

Somebody had to go into the research to build it. Somebody had to put it together. And in covering all of those costs, again, I would like to think somebody isn’t saying like, Oh, government subsidies? Cash money? Like, let’s just, Mark up the price. I do understand that that could happen. I also think when you’re looking at something brand, brand new like this, 3, 000, it is expensive.

Believe me, Matt and I just had a conversation offline, which is about like, is something worth it? And I don’t know. I don’t know if $3, 000 is worth it, but maybe this tech as it enters the market, if it drops in half, is $1, 500 worth it? Is. A thousand.

I don’t know if you want to bring this up, but there were, there were comments, a thread of comments I saw where people were saying, I have a window heat pump unit that I got on Amazon for X and it was dramatically less.

And I love that people were sharing that stuff. It’s fantastic. But then some of those units, and I went and I looked into, and it was kind of like you’re comparing a Toyota Camry to a Ferrari. It’s like, just because it has four wheels and a steering wheel doesn’t make all cars equal. It’s like, there’s different use cases within the vehicle range.

Are you going to be towing things? Are you hauling things? Do you need a truck? Do you need a little Camry? It’s like, you need different things for different jobs. And some of the units I looked into, they were technically, yeah, they’re heat pumps and they cost 700 bucks or 1, 200 bucks. But when I looked at the technical specs for the temperature ranges they operated in, a lot of these didn’t go below 41 degrees Fahrenheit

for warming. It’s like that would not even work in New York City for keeping you warm in the winter. You’d have to get down to, you know, like that seven degrees Fahrenheit range kind of to make things work. So not all heat pumps are created equal. There’s different reasons why some work better in some temperature ranges versus others.

It’s what’s the refrigerant inside, how well they winterize to be able to keep that condenser from freezing up. So again, we all have to keep that in mind that you can’t just, it’s not always an apples to apples comparison because it’s, Oh, it’s a heat pump. So ergo it’s, why is it so much more expensive?

You have to look at the specs. You have to look at what it’s geared for and what its operating range is, stuff like that is very, very important.

Yeah, I wanted to end with a comment that’s directly to that point from ePeltzer, who wrote in to say, This concept goes way beyond just New York apartment dwellers.

This is basically a one piece mini split that can go in nearly any window and plug into a 120 volt These could be used in nearly any dwelling, school, or workplace, and provide a nearly instant and cost effective HVAC system. That’s enormous. A lot of homeowners will have been moving to mini splits, and often you need multiple separate units for an entire home.

They need professional installation. At an average cost of $5000 each, these days, install that is pretty expensive. We just installed one, but it only covers two rooms. Also, most run on 240V, which has to be run to each unit. I’ve been waiting for these saddle shaped, heat cooled units to hit the general market, but as yet, they’re still not really there.

When they do, it would be a real revolution in HVAC across the market. You could easily buy a number of these for your home and ditch your central heat and air. I would buy two tomorrow. It’s, that’s directly to what you were just saying. Like once you reach the. ability within the market to make things hit the right price point for your target, you end up reshaping the conversation.

And we are not there yet. We are, the point of Matt’s video is this is brand, brand, brand new. This isn’t even in anybody’s windows yet, but this is something New York City and, and here we have New York City doing what other economies of its size can do. They can drive the market. In the same way, It’s like California has a huge impact on environmental protection across the country simply because California is so big that when they say cars have to do this here, cars end up doing it everywhere because the car manufacturers are like, if we’re going to sell in California, that’s big enough that we need to make these adjustments across the board.

Here in New York City is doing something similar. It’s so many apartments here. It is a huge market. And for the city to be able to have sustainable energy in the future, we’re not going to get there without changing how people not just get their energy, but use it. And this is a huge step in that direction.

It would be great if every building in New York city had a wind turbine and a solar panel on it. But even if you did that, if people are still using heat production in the way they do, and trust me, I live in New York city now for the majority of my adult life, I’ve lived in those apartments where in the winter time, you’re like, open that window because it’s simply too hot in here.

It’s 95 degrees. That doesn’t meet the sustainability goal. That’s absolutely ridiculous. So we’re very, very early days, but I do find myself looking at these units and thinking if it was an affordable price. I’d want one in my home. I live in a home where my bedroom is stifling hot in the summer and very cold in the winter.

And our just general HVAC system is only an H system. It doesn’t have any air conditioning and it’s not efficient. So yeah, if this was half as much or a third as much, I’d probably jump on one, although that might break it. So I wouldn’t jump.

I do want to correct one thing. These are actually in apartments right now.

It’s like, they’re not all completely rolled out, but there are some apartment buildings in New York city that already have these installed today and are using them today. So that’s another thing I want to point out. This is not some kind of vaporware actual thing. It’s won awards at HVAC shows, like in the industry, they have won awards for this design.

So like the industry is saying. Very clever. So the fact that the industry is saying very clever, um, and well done, uh, that to me says a lot.

Yeah. So listeners, let’s keep this conversation going. What do you think? Let us know in the comments. Don’t forget they help drive the content of this program and they help shape the content of the Mothership, which is of course, Undecided with Matt Ferrell.

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