Local group Alaska Heat Smart has received $2 million in federal grant money and will be using the funds to provide energy upgrades to low-income homes. In this May 2020 photo, Raymond Lindoff poses with his air source heat pump, installed by Renewable Juneau in 2020. (Courtesy photo / Andy Romanoff)

Local group has $2 million for home energy upgrades

Alaska Heat Smart wants to put heat pumps in 90 homes

With an infusion of federal grant money, Juneau’s air-source heat pump advocacy group Alaska Heat Smart will be able to provide energy efficiency upgrades to about 90 low-income homes, the group announced.

Alaska Heat Smart’s members try to promote the use of air-source heat pumps as a heating alternative in Juneau, and in the past have mostly offered free home assessments to homeowners interested in installing one, according to Steve Behnke, the group’s president. But the group was recently awarded $2 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Healthy Homes program, which provides money for a wide range of upgrades to low-income homes.

Air-source heat pumps are similar to wall-unit air-conditioners, but instead of cooling air, the pumps heat it, providing heat to a single room in a home. Though a single air-source heat pump might not be able to heat an entire home, Behnke said, they’re powered by electricity, which is cheaper than heating fuel. Because Juneau’s electricity comes from hydropower, installing an air-source heat pump in a home also reduces carbon emissions, Behnke said.

“The key point being that heat pumps can save you more than 50% on your heating bill,” Behnke told the Empire. “It reduces carbon emissions about the same as taking a car off the road.”

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Another group Behnke is a member of — Renewable Juneau — has a carbon offset program the proceeds of which have been used to install air-source heat pumps in low-income homes, but with the HUD funding will pay for the pump’s installation and other upgrades to homes to increase energy efficiency and general home health.

The Healthy Homes program is designed to provide a range of upgrades to low-income homes, according to Andy Romanoff, Alaska Heat Smart’s executive director and a member of Renewable Juneau, and the group has decided to use the funds from an energy-efficiency approach.

“The program isn’t intended to just install heat pumps, it’s a whole home remediation program,” Romanoff said. “Heat pumps are just a component of what that home will receive.”

HUD places a limit on how much can be spent per home, Romanoff said, which in this case is about $15,000, but with Alaska’s higher costs that means Alaska Heat Smart will be able to upgrade fewer homes than would be possible in the Lower 48. Alaska Heat Smart hopes to provide upgrades to 90 homes, Romanoff said. Additional upgrades include installing certain kinds of insulation, mold and moisture removal and the removal of toxic substances.

Romanoff said Renewable Juneau had installed a heat pump in the home of Raymond Lindoff in 2020 and the improvement brought a range of benefits.

“He’s a great example of what the Healthy Homes programs will do. He was keeping his house at 50 degrees because he couldn’t afford it,” Romanoff said.

That temperature was causing mold and mildew issues, and Lindoff’s fuel heating systems were old and leaking fumes, but with the heat pump installed the fuel heating was no longer necessary.

“With the installation of the heat pump all those issues went away, just with that one addition,” Romanoff said. They truly are a device which can clean up a home.”

Romanoff said Alaska Heat Smart hopes to officially begin the program in late July, but said that people who are interested can get on a waiting list by contacting the group.

Those interested in applying Alaska Heat Smart’s Healthy Homes funding can email andy@akheatsmart.org or call (907)500-5050.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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