Willing to Pay for Green

June 23, 2008
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Talk about a dream customer. Imagine getting a call from a homeowner who is unhappy with the six air conditioners and furnaces that were installed in her home just seven years ago. She wants all the systems removed, and because she doesn’t want to heat her home with fossil fuels, she’s looking for some type of green technology to condition her 8,000-square-foot house.

Pete Monahan, president, Beta American Services, Oakland, N.J., was lucky enough to receive that call, and because he is well versed in everything from dual-fuel equipment to geothermal systems, he was able to give this customer a wide array of options. What might be surprising to learn is that the homeowner didn’t choose a conventional HVAC system; instead, she opted to have a new kind of heat pump installed in her $11 million home.

That heat pump is the Acadia™ system from Hallowell International, which the company says is an energy-efficient, eco-friendly electric heating and cooling system that can keep a home’s indoor temperatures comfortable even when outdoor temperatures dip down to -30°F. While its first cost is markedly higher than a conventional heat pump, the company states the Acadia can cut home heating and cooling costs by up to 70 percent.

For an increasing number of homeowners, using less fossil fuel and reducing their carbon footprint is becoming very popular - and they’re willing to pay a premium to go green.

ALTERNATIVE TO GEOTHERMAL

Monahan has a hand in just about every market and technology available. His company works in the residential, commercial, and industrial markets and installs all types of equipment. Not that long ago, he received a call from a customer who was interested in having a geothermal system installed, but he also wanted Monahan to check out the new Acadia heat pump before putting together a quote.

After visiting the company’s Website and talking with Duane Hallowell, president of Hallowell International, Monahan was sold on the technology and ready to give it a try.

“What I like about this system is it addresses geothermal customers’ concerns,” said Monahan. “They’re usually environmentalists. They don’t want to burn fossil fuel, and they want to save energy. This machine has an average COP of 4, which is pretty high. It’s a nice alternative to geothermal, especially when you can’t get a field in. It’s very rocky in New Jersey, and it’s difficult to find drillers.”

The cost of the Acadia can’t compare to that of a builder’s grade heat pump, but it’s definitely an option for customers looking at high-end and/or dual-fuel systems. At that price point, the Acadia is still about $2,000 to $3,000 higher than a conventional system, but it costs approximately one-half that of a geothermal system. Depending on the climate and cost of electricity, the payback for the Acadia usually averages less than four years.

The other benefit of the Acadia is that it appeals to customers looking for ways to reduce the amount of carbon they contribute to the environment. A case in point is an installation Monahan finished last year. The homeowner installed $70,000 in solar panels on her home, drove a Toyota Prius, and wanted a heating and cooling system that would not require fossil fuels.

“This customer contacted me because she had read about the Acadia heat pump online, and that’s what she wanted,” said Monahan. “She’s in her 70s, so she wasn’t looking for a return on investment. She didn’t want to have fossil fuel on her property, and she already decided that this was the technology she wanted to use.”

CHANGING OUT THE OLD

This homeowner lives in a modest, 1,500-square-foot, 1960s ranch-style house that still had all its original equipment, which included radiant heating around the perimeter only and a hot water coil on top of a General Electric air handler. An oil-fired boiler with a tankless coil in it and a 7 SEER condensing unit completed the system.

A small mechanical room in the garage housed the air handler and boiler, which were both fairly simple to remove. The oil storage tank was also taken out, due to concerns that it might leak into the ground. Because the tankless coil was removed, Monahan installed a Rheem Marathon™ high-efficiency electric water heater.

This particular application required a 3-ton Acadia heat pump, which came packaged with a York air handler. Back-up resistance heat is not required with the Acadia system; however, the air handler has a 10 kW strip heater, which is used for defrost. The seldom used defrost cycle lasts only 60 to 90 seconds and operates about 80 percent less frequently than that in a conventional heat pump.

The company states that it is more energy efficient to use an electric strip heater for defrosting than a furnace because by the time the furnace fires up, the strip heater has already been in and out of defrost mode. “I like the way that York configures the electric heater because the circuit breakers are inside the air handler, so you can run one power feed from the electrical panel over to the air handler, and it gives you a separate circuit breaker for the air handler and a separate circuit breaker for the electric strip heater. It’s a nice feature,” said Monahan.

The customer’s overhead ductwork was insulated on the outside and still in decent shape, so nothing had to be done to it. Monahan re-installed her existing Aprilaire bypass humidifier as well as a new Aprilaire media air cleaner. The system comes with a three-stage heat/two-stage cool programmable thermostat, which according to Monahan, allows about 120 percent more moisture to be removed during humid months than a conventional system.

“In the winter, the first compressor comes on and keeps the fan low, which gives a really nice, high discharge temperature that is very comfortable,” he added.

Installation was straightforward on this project, but Monahan cautions others who are installing the Acadia to take the added precaution of making sure the units are raised up on feet. “Don’t use lintels, because there are drain holes on the bottom of the unit. It costs about $6 to buy the feet at the hardware store, and you’ll get in trouble if you don’t use them, because it will drag out the defrost cycle and cost more electricity.”

So far, Monahan has installed over 20 Acadia systems, and he has many more interested customers in the pipeline. As he noted, customers like the Prius-driving homeowner mentioned earlier are very educated and very green. And this particular homeowner is even more pleased that she hasn’t received an electric bill in 10 months. “There are a lot of people like that and more are becoming aware of how bad the environment actually is. People get angry over fossil fuels, and they feel good when they get off of it.”

And the good news is that they’re often willing to pay a premium to achieve that goal.

Publication date: 06/23/2008

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