Heat Pumps, Water Heaters, And Cooktops, Oh My!

0 10

Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!

Here at CleanTechnica, we blithely assume almost everyone wants to have the benefits that heat pumps provide. They heat and cool our homes, dry our clothes and heat our water more efficiently. Not only do that save us money on our utility bills, it helps reduce the carbon emissions that come from burning oil, methane gas, or propane. We marvel that some people still cook with old fashioned methane burning stoves that fill our homes with harmful pollutants. Why would anyone do that?

Actually, we and our readers tend to be ahead of the curve. We are early adopters of the “electrify everything” school of thought as promoted by people like Tony Seba and Mark Jacobson. There is a great big world out there filled with people how like the old ways of doing things just fine and see little reason to change. Recently, researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory wanted to find out what motivates people to switch to heat pumps and induction cooktops.

They surveyed 10,000 American homeowners and renters, who were selected to closely match U.S. census demographics. It’s the largest study exploring household energy behavior and motivations in the US to date, co-author Tracy Fuentes, an ecologist at PNNL who studies human decision making told Canary Media. Their findings were reported in the February, 2024 edition of the journal Energy Policy.

Heat Pumps And Cost

Not surprisingly, the research showed the biggest barrier to adding heat pumps and other decarbonizing equipment to American homes was money. Those products tend to cost more up front. Even though they often offset that initial disadvantage with lower operating costs over time, people still need to pay for them at the time of purchase. A similar thing happens with electric cars, which tend to be more expensive than conventional vehicles. It’s hard to convince people to spend more now to reap rewards in the future. It’s human nature to seek the lowest cost purchase option even when it may not be the lowest cost option in the long run.

The people at PNNL wanted to get a clearer idea of what factors motivated people to switch to heat pumps and other energy saving devices. What they found was that there was no one answer. About 65 percent of all respondents had concerns about the expense. 29 percent were deterred by unclear costs and benefits. The researchers say that the cost barrier underscores how important it is to publicize and develop programs like those in the Inflation Reduction Act that help people pay for decarbonizing tech.

Another clear trend is that renters reported rarely making or instigating home energy updates. That’s not surprising since building owners are typically responsible for major renovations and appliances but it does underscore the fact that ​renters need more help to find opportunities to decarbonize their homes, either on their own or by working with the building owner, Fuentes said.

Almost half of the participants surveyed said it’s important to them that the equipment for the upgrade is available through big-box stores, such as Home Depot, Lowe’s and Best Buy. Visibility is key, which is why the PNNL team recommends programs that promote low and zero carbon appliances through those retailers.

The PNNL team found that all across America, residents who have already made decarbonizing updates were strongly motivated by the desire to reduce their energy bills and environmental impacts, as well as increase the comfort in their homes.

While the Biden administration has made millions of dollars available to promote more efficient appliances like heat pumps, induction cooktops, and other devices, the pace of adopting those improvements remains low.  ​“We need to understand where the holdup is” — and how to boost the mass appeal of these technologies to realize the full carbon-cutting potential of these systems, said Kieren McCord, a research scientist in the building systems group at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. .

Regional Variations

The PNNL team found significant regional variations in what motivates people to decarbonize their homes, which is why the authors recommend decarbonization programs in each region focus their messaging accordingly. Respondents who lived in the West were more interested in reducing harmful health and environmental impacts than those in other regions. As the warming climate creates more demand for air conditioning across the West, programs can stress the health and safety benefits and lower carbon emissions that come with selecting a two way heat pump rather than a conventional central AC unit.

In the Midwest, people are more motivated by cost savings and boosting home safety. Program leaders could tout the resilience benefits of having solar panels and a battery to ride out power outages during storms, the authors suggest.

In the Southeast, residents are more driven by a home’s aesthetics. Linking that to decarbonizing tech might be easier in some cases. There are efforts to make decarbonizing tech more attractive. In 2023, LG debuted a heat pump water heater that is so attractive it can be installed in plain view instead of hidden in the basement. The PNNL team recommends working with contractors to fold in information about decarbonizing upgrades when residents are giving their kitchens and bathrooms a face lift.

Sources Of Information On Heat Pumps Vary

Where people get information about home energy upgrades also differs across the U.S. For example, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas rely ​“on social media a lot more than the other regions,” McCord told Canary Media. In contrast, people in the Northeast lean more heavily on contractors, who could be recruited to serve as trusted resources for home electrification.

“The regional piece is going to be really key” for home decarbonization initiatives, Fuentes said, including the state level rollout of the IRA electrification and efficiency rebate programs that are expected to start this year. PNNL plans to make the study’s underlying data available later this year for local groups to dissect, so they can tailor their campaigns to their own populaces.

“We’re just thrilled” that PNNL has done this work, said Jill Vohr, director of product marketing and communications at Energy Star, the energy efficiency labelling program administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. She works with utilities, retailers and manufacturers across the country to promote decarbonizing tech such as heat pumps. ​“This is just the kind of data that we need to do effective outreach to consumers.”

The PNNL researchers hope that by illuminating what’s in people’s hearts and minds as they make decisions about their homes, they can help turbocharge the residential transition to clean energy. For consumers who don’t yet realize how their personal values and preferences relate to decarbonizing technologies, leaders ​“can make that connection for them,” McCord said. Heat pumps, insulation and electric stoves help the environment, sure — but they also make homes ​“a better place to live.”

The Takeaway

Heat pumps are more efficient, which means they use less energy to do the same job as older equipment. Efficiency is vital to meeting the challenge of an overheating planet. Yet many people are reluctant to spend more for something they don’t understand.

The research from PNNL helps identify what information people need in order to choose heat pumps for heating and cooling, heating hot water, and drying clothes and induction cooktops in place of stoves that use methane gas. The transition from old to new technology always proceeds in fits and starts, but the information for the PNNL research should help move the process along.

Have a tip for CleanTechnica? Want to advertise? Want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.

Latest CleanTechnica TV Video

I don’t like paywalls. You don’t like paywalls. Who likes paywalls? Here at CleanTechnica, we implemented a limited paywall for a while, but it always felt wrong — and it was always tough to decide what we should put behind there. In theory, your most exclusive and best content goes behind a paywall. But then fewer people read it!! So, we’ve decided to completely nix paywalls here at CleanTechnica. But…


Like other media companies, we need reader support! If you support us, please chip in a bit monthly to help our team write, edit, and publish 15 cleantech stories a day!


Thank you!



CleanTechnica uses affiliate links. See our policy here.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.