Brian Sadler, Vice President at Solaris Renewables, talks with Brett Rogenski from N.E.T.R., Inc. about the benefits of heat pumps. He explains how integrating heat pumps and solar panels can save you money and make your home more energy efficient.
John Maher: Hi, I am John Maher and I’m here today with Brian Sadler, Vice President at Solaris Renewables, a solar company in Massachusetts providing premium solar and storage technologies with exceptional customer service, including designing, installing, and servicing solar systems in Massachusetts, Southern New Hampshire and Maine. Today we’re talking about integrating heat pumps with your solar panels. Welcome, Brian.
Brian Sadler: Hi, John. Nice to be with you today.
John: Thanks. And we have a special guest today. Our special guest is Brett Rogenski, General Manager of N.E.T.R., Inc, a heating and cooling company in Massachusetts with a focus on Mitsubishi ductless heating and cooling products. Welcome, Brett.
Brett Rogenski: Thank you for having me.
Introduction to Air Source Heat Pumps AKA Mini Splits
John: Sure. Yeah. So Brett, we’ll start with you. Tell us a little bit about heat pumps or sometimes called ductless mini splits. They have a few different names like that. What’s the latest technology and what are they?
Brett: Sure. So it’s a technology that’s actually been around for a while, but it’s really become refined here in the last 20 years and then even more so within the last five or 10 years. So heat pumps are exactly that.
In a conventional heating system, you’re essentially typically moving air to a source of heat. So you’re burning fossil fuels and you’re taking air from within the home, in the case of like a furnace, and moving it past a heat exchanger to warm it and then put it back into the home. Or if you’re cooling, you’re taking the air and moving it to the cooling source, which is usually an air handler right there by the furnace. And then moving it back into the home.
Heat pumps actually literally move heat, so there’s an outdoor unit, a condenser; there’s an indoor unit that’s an evaporator. And we are actually using the refrigerant to take the heat, for instance, in a cooling cycle, the heat that is in your home and there’s a little fan in the unit that’s pulling air past that, we remove the heat through the refrigerant lines, which you don’t see and get dumped out into the outside.
So very similar to any other air conditioning system, but we’re physically, instead of moving air to the cooling, we’re removing heat from the air. The heating cycle is exactly the opposite of that. So instead of taking air and moving it to a furnace and then redistributing it through the house, we’re actually collecting heat in that outdoor unit.
So even in negative 13 Fahrenheit temperatures, there’s actually still heat out there that can be collected and, if you will, condensed, as well as heat from the mechanical operation of the unit. And we’re collecting that, putting it into the refrigerant and then delivering it into the house into those same evaporators and releasing it into the space. So it’s a much more efficient system and it’s also very green. It’s an all electric system. No fossil fuels are being used.
And one of the biggest differences in the new systems are what, for instance, Mitsubishi calls hyper heat. In the old days, these were pretty much considered, or at least in our area, cooling systems only. And then eventually they had systems where you could do some supplemental heating, if you will. During those shoulder seasons, you’re having a cool fall day, you could add some heat.
Now with their hyper heat systems, you can have full system performance and heating down as low as negative 13 degrees Fahrenheit, ambient temperature. So what’s the biggest difference? Lots of nice good-looking form factors of a whole variety of them available, a green source of heating and cooling, and again, that ability to heat and cool your house even down to negative 13 Fahrenheit.
Why Are Heat Pumps a Green Solution?
John: And these modern systems, like you said, Brett, now can be used to entirely replace your old fossil fuel system. Right? And is that what generally makes it a greener solution for homeowners?
Brett: Absolutely. And particularly in Massachusetts where Mass Save has a very robust rebate program as well as through the Inflation Reduction Act, there’s also a very robust tax credit system as well, it’s really making a lot of financial sense for many homeowners to eliminate their fossil fuel system, so a gas furnace, an oil boiler, whatever they may have, and replace it with a mini split system, a ductless system.
And with that, exactly that, with those advances in technology, now you can fully heat your home even in the coldest winter days here in New England. So it’s a really proven technology. I think there’s maybe a lot of old paradigms from what ductless used to be many years ago that just aren’t true anymore. And we help homeowners every single day move to whole home solutions and number one, gain better comfort, number two, better air quality, number three, greener solution. And then number four, gain a lot of those financial incentives as well.
Heat Pumps Work Efficiently in Cold Temps
Brian: It’s incredible that they can cover that temperature range as well.
Brett: Yeah, it really is, and I think that’s one of the biggest paradigm shifts out there is people understanding that this isn’t grandpa’s heat pump. There was a point in time where they were again built predominantly as a cooling system with a little supplemental heat capability and now they’re extremely robust and extremely reliable and a great way to heat your home even in the coldest days.
The other thing that’s interesting is it’s not, how do I put this, it’s not quite as cold in New England as a lot of times we’d like to think it is. We all think of ourselves as nice, robust New Englanders and we endure the cold and it’s cold. I get that. But we literally on average, typically in New England, spend less than 10 hours a year at temperatures below negative 10 and something only like 30 hours a year between zero and negative 10. And most of those increments come in a little one and two hour bites, not at a shot. So certainly there’s a few exceptions to that, but this isn’t Fairbanks, Alaska, I guess is all I’m saying.
Brian: I did see last year that we had those kind of extreme temperatures that we haven’t seen in a while and it was surprising to me to hear kind of what you’re pointing to that we don’t see those negative temperatures we think that we do or that we feel.
I know when I was young and a little kid, I felt like it was a lot colder, a lot more often. And as we get used to it and realize that it’s not quite as cold, but it’s impressive that the heat pumps can stand up to that. And I know there was a lot of information. I saw during that time that heat pumps… there were a lot of articles that I read showing that when it was negative four or negative 10, that homeowners were able to sustain their home conditioning with heat pumps exclusively. So it was good to see that the technology’s come that far.
Cold Climate Heat Pumps Thrive During Cold Snap
Brett: So I believe it was this past, I want to say it was January, we had a weekend cold snap here in the greater Boston area where depending on where you were, it may have gotten ambient temperature as low as negative 10 to even negative 15 in certain spots.
And I’ll tell you, and N.E.T.R. has been doing ductless for a very long time. We were one of the real first people doing this in New England, so we have a lot of systems out there. I can tell you we did not answer a single call for a cold climate heat pump, a heat pump designed for cold climate, not achieving its objectives amongst our customer base. Now certainly we had some folks with maybe older systems that were never designed, no one ever told them it would heat to negative 10 ambient temperature.
And then obviously unfortunately we get to meet some new customers when they have issues with a system, whether it’s a heat pump or a furnace or whatever that just gives up the ghost during those extreme cycles ’cause it has to work so hard. But it was a real testament to our team that we literally did not have one failure amongst designed cold climate heat pumps during that test, which was the coldest day, I believe in Boston. What was it, coldest day in 30 years I believe it was.
Brian: Yeah, it’s been a long time. It was cold, but it’s impressive that you guys didn’t get any calls or have any failures.
Brett: So my point being when you’re working with cold climate heat pumps, it just shows you how robust the technology is when you’re designing the solution with that in mind from the get go.
Solar Panels and Heat Pumps: Working Together for a Greener Home
John: Brian, passing it over to you a little bit, I mean a lot of what Brett was talking about sounds very similar to what we’ve talked about with installing solar panels and the reasons for doing so, wanting to be more green, wanting to reduce your carbon footprint and things like that, as well as take advantage of tax incentives and savings. How do you see the solar panel technology and heat pump technology really working together to make your home greener and reduce your carbon footprint?
Brian: Absolutely. I think there’s a great relationship between the two. There’s certainly a movement towards electrifying homes and folks are looking at that for environmental impact as well as control. A lot of it’s control… The ductless systems give you a lot of control. You get individualized heating in your rooms or in certain areas.
And then you’re also able to offset either fully or to whatever percentage that you’re looking to do so your fossil fuel burning from your heating source. So if you’re burning oil or burning gas or propane, you’re either able to avoid some of that by using heat pumps or replace it all together. And by replacing it, you’re using more electricity to do so. So the heating load of heat pumps is going to be higher than not using heat pumps obviously. Correct?
John: Of course.
Brian: The heating time in our climate is higher than the cooling time, but this equipment’s tremendously efficient like Brett pointed out.
And now that you’re adding to your electrical load by replacing another “utility buy” for your heating costs, solar is a perfect attribute to that, to be able to help offset that cost and that need as well. And both of them are giving you a “greener solution,” right? So where solar obviously is offsetting burning fossil fuels by creating electricity yourselves and giving you electricity savings that you’re replacing from the grid, and then by adding heat pumps that you’re consolidating your utility and your burning of fossil fuels to just electric and now you’re able to create your own electric, so you’re covering that as well.
I think it’s a perfect partnership looking at both technologies and a lot of customers that are looking at one are looking at the other. We hear it all the time from our customers, they want to go solar because they have heat pumps now or because they’re going to have heat pumps or that and other layers.
A lot of times folks are like, we want to do solar now because we’re doing heat pumps here coming up, and then we’re adding an EV and so on and so forth. And then conversely, folks call us and say, “Hey, I got heat pumps and I want to now go take the next step and get solar and see what I can do with solar to cover my demand with the heat pumps as well.” So absolutely, I feel like it’s a symbiotic relationship that if one customer, if they decide to do one or the other first, then a logical next step is the other technology, be it solar or heat pumps.
Heat Pumps and Solar Power Help You Save Money
Brett: Yeah. You’re absolutely right. They’re very symbiotic and the heat pump is the really green solution for heating and cooling your home, the solar is the green solution for power generation. And imagine that suddenly you can have them working together. So it’s not just a green solution, but it also makes a lot of financial sense as well.
Brett: So it’s a great way to decarbonize, it’s a great way to be green, but the other green is your bank account that’s going to benefit as well by offsetting these. So I really think so many people explore both because it’s such a natural pairing.
Individualized Controls With Heat Pumps
Brian: And I think the control is huge, right? So with, we’ll just call it a boiler. Right now we have an oil fired hot water boiler. So when we put the temperature, we have one zone that’s in the middle of our house, we set that at 67, it’s going to work the whole house and cycle conditioned water through my radiators… It starts in the garage and goes out through the kitchen, the living room, through the bedrooms, the bathrooms and cycles back around. So we could have one room that’s 75 and one that’s 60 and all different temperatures just to try to get the ambient house temperature to one place.
As opposed to with heat pumps, you’re looking at the individual heads be it wall mounted, ceiling cassettes or floor mounted cassettes or any of the solutions that N.E.T.R. offers, but you’re able to really control and individualize rooms or areas and you can do your whole home as well and have them all working together to get your ambient house temperature.
But I think the control is something that folks really appreciate and if someone that sleeps in this room loves it at 70 and this one loves it at 60, you can do that, where you can’t do that with conventional fossil fuel heating systems. And then again, on the control piece, being able to control the generation of that by having a solar system that makes the electricity, you kind of get a lot of energy independence and control right at your individualized site, which let’s face it, this is America and we want what we want and we want to be able to control that, and we’re able to do that with these technologies.
Brett: Well, and to your point, how they work together and with the control piece. So in a traditional heating system, whether it be baseboard hot water like you’re talking about, or forced hot air. Let’s use that baseboard example. Let’s say you have three bedrooms and a living room that are on a zone and okay, it’s daytime, no one’s in the bedrooms, but mom or dad’s home and we got to keep the living room 70. Well, guess what? The bedrooms are going to be 70 or above too even though no one’s using them.
Brett: So therefore you’re using energy to heat those spaces that you don’t even want to use, but you have no choice.
Let’s turn that into the ductless conversation. Now there’s a head in each of all four of those spaces. You don’t have to heat the bedrooms at all, shut them off, and then heat the one room that someone is in, or maybe someone’s in the whatever guest room, doesn’t matter, whatever combination you want.
But then let’s go back to your solar draw. We’re not wasting energy heating unused spaces during the day. We’re going to shut off all three of those bedrooms ’cause no one’s in there. Yes, we are going to heat our living room because that’s where we are during the day maybe. And again, from your point of view on electric generation coming from your rooftop and then maybe perhaps even feeding to a battery and that sort of thing, why waste that energy heating or cooling a room that no one’s enjoying?
Brian: Absolutely. Great point.
Tax Incentives to Finance Heat Pumps
John: Brett, you mentioned briefly some tax incentives and other ways to help to finance heat pump installation. Can you talk a little bit more about what’s available?
Brett: Sure, absolutely. So one that’s overarching regardless of where you live is the Inflation Reduction Act has tax incentives, so tax credits that are available for heat pumps. And to draw it with a fairly broad perspective is that you can gain a tax credit of up to 30% of your installed system up to $2,000 simply by installing a heat pump as your heating system. So there’s a few qualifications around there, but long story short, typically it’s 30% up to $2,000 tax credit that you can simply claim on your tax refund.
Now in Massachusetts specifically, their Mass Save has a very robust program around air source heat pumps. If you move to whole home heating with an air source heat pump, so it replaces your fossil fuel system altogether, provides all the heat for your home, which it has to be designed in a certain manner to meet that criteria for Mass Save, you can gain a $10,000 rebate from Mass Save.
You can also then gain what’s called a heat loan, which is a Mass Save partner program where you can then finance that for up to 84 months at 0% interest. So if you were to design a system and for the sake of quick math, if it was $25,000 and it met the criteria, you’d then get $10,000 of that back from Mass Save in the form of a check. So now you’re down to $15,000 and then you could finance that $15,000 for 84 months at 0% interest. So it’s really financially lucrative… Well, it’s really financially achievable to move forward with moving with whole home.
In some cases, whole home just doesn’t work in a home, it’s not the right application. But there are also rebates available, and I believe it’s $1,250 a ton for partial home rebates. So meaning that you’re using the heat pump in partial areas of the home or in a supplemental type manner. It does involve some what’s called integrated controls that basically set cut points between your ductless system and your conventional heating system. So it will rely on the ductless to a certain outdoor air temperature, and then it will then move over maybe to your legacy system, which might be a gas boiler or a gas furnace or something like that.
So again, there’s rebates available there on the order of $1,250 a ton as well as some financing. So yeah, there’s some really great programs that are available in Massachusetts and also through the federal government.
Brian: Yeah, I think the state and it’s huge, the IRA expanded the tax credit that us in the solar industry have been leveraging for over 15, almost 18 years now. And now it’s been expanded for new electrification technologies, heat pumps being the key one, and that’s massive. You know what I mean?
And I think that’s smart of the federal government to try to drive the future of our country forward for better and cleaner technologies and help offset that cost. We know the nature of incentives is that they come and they decline and then they go away. So it’s great to take advantage of them while they’re available. And then of course, Massachusetts being on the forefront of that with the Mass Save program, the rebates are extremely rewarding.
And like you said, Brett, make the heat pump technology and a whole home or a partial home system accessible to most everyone, along with the 0% heat loan. Just incredible programs to be able to take advantage of.
Brett: And to your point, Brian, I think in both of our industries, these are kind of the golden days, if you will, of incentivization. So if you’re a homeowner and you’re considering doing it, there literally probably, from a financial point of view, there’s not been a better time to do this by being able to claim federal tax credits by being able to claim rebates and taking advantage of programs like the heat loan and stuff. It’s more achievable now than it’s ever been. And to your point, eventually over time as there’s more and more adoption, they won’t have to incentivize it as much.
Brett: So I guess my message, whether it be for folks looking at solar heat pumps or the combination of both is you probably ought not wait ’cause it’s probably not going to get a lot better than it’s today.
Brian: Awesome. I mean, I couldn’t have said it better. And so everyone should call N.E.T.R. and Solaris Renewables to find out more.
Brett: There you go.
Heat Pump System Design and Installation Process
John: Finally, Brett, I just wanted to ask you a little bit more if you could walk us through the installation process really from when you first go into a home and you’re determining what type of system a homeowner needs, and then walk us through the installation.
Brett: Sure. So when done properly and we pride ourselves on doing it properly, it all starts out first with a connection with the homeowner and what are we trying to achieve here? Okay, so are we looking to decarbonize? Are we looking to take advantage of incentives? Are we looking for cooling only? Are we looking for heating? Yeah, what is the homeowner’s goal because that’s the most important part and their comfort.
And then, once we’ve established what it is they’re trying to achieve and everyone has slightly different objectives, then we start looking at probably really the next step is doing heat load calculation. So let’s assume someone’s looking at heating and cooling their home using mini splits. The next part is heat load calculation. So that’s not looking around a room and going, “Well, I guess whatever.” There’s an actual process to that where based on the age of the home insulation, even orientation as far as north-south, sun exposure and all that, where we determine what the heat load, single pane windows, double pane windows, triple pane windows, there’s a whole bunch that plays into that, coming up with the heat load calculation to know how much heat your home is going to consume and also how tight is your home, because obviously a house built and not necessarily improved since the seventies or early eighties is not going to be as efficient as a home that was finished last week.
So coming up with that heat load calculation so we can then go into product design, which also involves the customer. What form factors do you like? So now we know how much heat we have to be able to put into a room or how much cooling we need in a room.
Now let’s go to the second part: what form factors are you looking at? Are you looking at units that go on your walls? Are you looking at floor based units? Are you looking at, as we like to call it, ducted ductless? So putting an air handler and tying it to existing duct work. So designing not just something that’ll functionally work for the customer, but aesthetically work for the customer as well. Once we’ve all come to an agreement on that design, we then propose it to the customer as well as model out those rebates and incentives and heat loan.
At N.E.T.R., we work to really offer to be a concierge service for you between yourself and Mass Save and even helping in the heat loan process. There’s certain parts we can’t do legally, but all the parts that we can help you with, we actually do either for you or with you all the way through the process. And then once you’re in that situation that you have your heat loan secured or whatever you’re doing, we get you scheduled and we try and set a clear expectation of what we’re going to do, how long we’re going to be there.
And the installation process starts with a lead technician going through your home with you, confirming locations, confirming goals, understanding what your needs are. Obviously we have supervisors who visit the sites as well to align those things after we’ve done the design. And then going through and working neatly in your home and trying to work around you and your family and making sure that we clean up well after ourselves and get that implemented.
And then the final stage after implementation, installation, is training and giving the customer some overarching training on how to use the system properly, which a lot of times there might be questions afterwards. We do a lot of videos that are on our YouTube page where people can help themselves when they later go, “How do I do that?” Well, we’re happy to help, but a lot of folks want to help themselves so they can go reference a quick video and “Geez, how do I change that setting on the ecobee thermostat?” Well, just pop on there or give us a call. We’re happy to help. But a lot of folks don’t want to do that. They want to be able to fix it themselves.
Positive Experiences With Heat Pump Installation
Brian: I can speak from experience through a whole home heat pump installation and specifically working with N.E.T.R. that they did a fabulous job and that the intrusion is not what you might anticipate for it to be. You are in the home, but the upfront process showed me how things were going to work and where things are going to go and suggestions on what you need.
We talked about equipment, I was able to make some selections there and some of the controls, things like that, which was awesome. And the technology has evolved tremendously. And then when the team was actually on site, they did just what Brett said. They walked me through, confirmed where do we want things and how this and that may work and set up each of the workstations they were working and such. And were very considerate to me and my family in our home, were very neat and I really appreciate that. I think that goes a long way for the homeowner experience.
It was interesting for me to be on the other end and I saw a lot of parallels between our two processes really and very similarly have kind of a sales consultation upfront. You live through the process until your project’s ready and answering questions and setting up financing, rebates and that process as well. And N.E.T.R. is tremendously helpful. Their whole team is great.
And then it’s on-site time and it’s time to get it done. A lot of times I think that we forget because we live this and do this every day. This is a construction project, right?
Great Service From Local Companies
Brian: Solar is a construction project. Heat pumps are a construction project. Now it’s lighter construction. We’re not tearing your roof off or ripping walls down and that kind of disruption. But it still is a construction project and there’s going to be guys with tools in and around the house and potentially fastening things to walls and roofs and such.
And so it was great to see that the impact was minimal and the end result was really clean and a great product. And then they absolutely did walk me through how it worked and how the remotes worked for each individual head. I ended up getting an app control to go with the system, which was really cool and something that was important to me and my family. So it was a great experience overall and I’d highly recommend N.E.T.R. to anyone out there looking for heat pumps.
And I think a big deal for us is, again, you’re a local company. There’s a lot of heat pump installers out there, there’s a lot of solar installers out there. There’s a lot of folks using the same or similar equipment, but are they going to be there on the service end to answer the questions and to walk you through the process and make sure that the end result is all that it should be.
Why You Should Choose a Mature Installer
Brett: Brian, first of all, thank you. And second of all, you bring up a great point that there’s always someone else out there that can sell the same or similar equipment and stuff. To us, and your company is just like ours in this regard, we’ve been doing this a long time.
You didn’t suddenly decide to get into the solar business three weeks ago because there were good incentives out there. We didn’t decide to get into the ductless business three weeks ago. We’ve both been doing this for a very long time, and experience is worth a lot.
And then the other thing that you mentioned as well was service. People need to look at the company they’re working with and say, is this a mature company that is going to be able to serve me, not just get my installation done? Are they going to be able to serve me after the sale? God forbid two years from now I need them in a service type situation. Are they really going to be… Number one, are they interested in doing that? Number two, are they capable of doing that? And those are the things that really set the quality companies apart from other folks in my mind.
Brian: I couldn’t agree more. And we see this years and years, decades now in our industry that when a company in a certain region in our country gets large and they’re going to expand, they go to Massachusetts because there are great incentives and if you offer certain programs, it’s very lucrative. It appears to be very lucrative to the company. So the first place to invest is Massachusetts.
And we’ve seen, I don’t know what the number is, far more than dozens, I don’t want to say hundreds, but I’ve seen a lot of companies come in that are cheaper and they have the flashy this and that over here. And the bottom line does move the needle for customers. And we think it’s really important to talk about the value and what the overall program means and service for years to come, like Brett was just talking about. And it’s a huge piece. We’re here to stay. We’re experts in what we do and we want to give customers the best experience. And I know N.E.T.R. has the same philosophy, right?
Brian: So it’s very similar products and services that we offer as well.
John: All right, well that’s really great information and these sound like two great technologies that work great together. So I’m really happy to talk to both of you. Brett from N.E.T.R., thanks again for joining us today.
Brett: Thank you so much for having me.
John: And as always, Brian from Solaris Renewables. Thanks for speaking with me today as well.
Brian: Thanks, John.
How to Learn More About Solar and Heat Pumps
John: And for more information, you can visit the website. It’s solarisrenewables.com or call (781) 270-6555. And Brett, can you tell people how they can get in touch with you at N.E.T.R.?
Brett: Yeah, sure. To get in touch with us at N.E.T.R., the easiest way, first of all, please go check out our website. Our website is www.netrinc.com. And you can also reach us at (781) 933-6387.
John: All right, thanks again, both of you. Great to talk to you.
Brian: Thank you. Good to have you.
Brett: Thank you.