Air Source Heat Pumps: Installers and Homeowners 

By: Emily Seitz

I was assigned a project to research the policies that will encourage the use of air source heat pumps (ASHP) in Minnesota, and I first turned to journals and articles. I learned about the incentives residents and installers receive in other states and the technology behind ASHP. Trying to relate this information to Minnesota and what would work here proved difficult, so I decided to ask an actual Minnesota homeowner and installer of water heaters to see what he thinks about this from two points of view.  

 Question: ​What is your official job title?

“Plumber.” 

 Question: ​Have you ever installed an ASHP?

“No.” 

 Question: ​Have you ever installed a gas or electric water heater?

“Yes, thousands.” 

 Question: ​What’s the purpose of an ASHP?

“It saves energy which turns into saving money.” 

 Question: ​What do plumbers think of ASHP?

“They weren’t used until very recently when the MN energy code changed, requiring them on residential electric water heaters over 55 gallons. Most plumbers suggest gas water heaters over ASHP because they cost less up-front by about $800. Gas water heaters deliver much more hot water recovery, by more than double, depending on burner size (how many BTU/hour). Apartment buildings with communal water heaters are usually gas, steam, or hot water because of the faster recovery times, which is needed for the large volumes of water apartments use.”  

 Question: ​What would make you more willing to suggest ASHP to customers?

“Rebates for installing ASHP would cause me to sell ASHP harder. The average consumer doesn’t understand how they work and value price more than energy savings, which makes them an uncommon choice unless the law requires it. It would also be helpful to have a cost savings sell sheet to tell the consumer how much they would save over time even though it costs more right now. I am also more inclined to suggest ASHP to customers if they already have an electric water heater installed.”  

Question: ​Have you considered installing one in your own house?

“I currently have a natural gas water heater, and it is a complicated process to switch from gas to electric because you have to pull a circuit from the main breaker box, which requires an electrician. This further increases the up-front cost of installing an electric or ASHP water heater. It is almost unrealistic for me to switch over from gas to electric/ASHP because everything is already installed for gas and it is expensive to switch, lessening the overall cost savings.” 

 Question: ​What would the government have to provide in order for you to consider buying one the next time you need an air or water heater?

“I would want a price lock on each kilowatt hour since the cost of electricity is probably going to increase, and then I will know how much I will spend each month. Rebates on the purchase of an ASHP would also help because they are much more expensive to purchase than a regular electric or gas water heater.”  

Overall, I learned that air source heat pumps seem like a great option for people who already have an electric water heater in place, because it is easy to switch and it saves a lot per month. Homeowners who have a gas water heater installed and apartment buildings are not ideal candidates for air source heat pumps or electric heaters. I think Minnesota could offer information on ASHP to consumers and installers to increase knowledge about the cost savings they offer. Rebates and other economic incentives will be persuasive to both installers and homeowners. The biggest solution to increasing ASHP in Minnesota that I took away from this interview is mandating that all new houses require electric water heaters to get rid of the complexity of switching from gas to electric.  

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