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An Oily Challenge: Evict Stinky Old Furnaces in Favor of Heat Pumps

By District Energy posted 09-14-2022 05:55


New York Times


For years, Tami Nelson struggled with what she called the “temperamental old man” in the basement. He was inefficient. He was smelly. Plus, he took way too much of her money.

That was Ms. Nelson’s nickname for the ancient oil-fed burner that provided heat and hot water for her 8-unit apartment building on a historic block in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood.

Her tenants called to complain of cold showers. In winters, her monthly heating oil bill went upwards of $1,000. Her basement walls were coated with soot and stench.

No more. This past spring, she evicted the old machinery and replaced it with electric heat pumps. In so doing, she brought her century-old property in New York City along an increasingly urgent global transformation: weaning homes and offices off oil and gas.

In the United States, the Biden administration is trying to hasten that shift with billions of dollars in 
tax rebates to electrify buildings and make them more energy efficient. The global energy crisis, spurred by the Russian invasion of Ukraine has also hastened that shift. In 2021, sales of heat pumps grew significantly in the United States and several other major markets, according to research published in Nature.

Consider Sweden. Winters are very cold there, and fossil fuels account for less than 5 percent of home heating. That shift took 50 years.

Sweden once heated its buildings with oil. The 1970s oil crisis was the first tipping point. Next was a 1991 carbon tax, which made heating oil more expensive with a levy on the carbon dioxide emitted.

Today, Sweden relies on district heating: Pipes carry heat into apartment buildings. The heat comes mostly from burning garbage and biomass (which has environmental problems). Single-family homes, meanwhile, rely mostly on heat pumps.

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