Heat Our Homes, Not the Planet!

By by Lindsay Speer on

It’s that time of year when we turn on the heat, watch our energy bills rise, and wish that there was a way to stay comfortable through the winter without sending money to fossil fuel companies, who are driving climate change and climate denial in the US.


But we can warm our homes without warming the planet! Heat pumps are devices that look like furnaces or central A/C units and are a common way of heating and cooling relatively unknown in NYS. Unlike conventional heating that inefficiently combusts fossil fuels, heat pumps work by bringing heat from the outside into our homes. For ground-source (or “geothermal”) heating, vertical or horizontal heat exchange loops go into the ground and draw on the stable temperature of the earth. Cold climate air source heat pumps pull heat from the air as low as -19° F. The heat pumps then “pump up” the heat to the temperature you want in your home. These systems are 400% more efficient than conventional heating and cooling systems, increase capacity on our electrical grid, and reduce pollutants in the home such as carbon monoxide.





HeatSmart CNY, a new campaign of the Alliance for a Green Economy (AGREE) and theCNY Regional Planning and Development Board, is helping home and building owners learn about their options and connect with installers. It’s time for a heat pump revolution!


HeatSmart CNY builds on the successful community organizing work of HeatSmart Tompkins and the local Solarize campaigns which helped homeowners install solar panels on 300 homes in CNY. HeatSmart CNY will educate people about the innovations in technology and financing that are making geothermal and cold climate air source heat pumps affordable options for our region, and connect people with qualified installers. Even so, these are not really brand new technologies; local companies have been installing geothermal systems for decades. Over 45 geothermal and 16 air source systems were installed in Central NY in the past year alone.


Widespread installation of heat pumps is key to meeting NYS’s greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments. Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy testified to the Public Service Commission that we need to install heat pumps in over 200,000 homes per year to meet NYS’s goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. Heat pumps are also key to increasing our climate resiliency in a warming world—they provide cooling in our increasingly hot summers far more efficiently than conventional air conditioners, which helps decrease summer peak electricity loads.


Heat pumps’ role in our clean energy transition is so important that the NYS Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) is funding HeatSmart CNY

and seven other community campaigns around the state, and encouraging more to be developed. HeatSmart CNY is one of only two in the state to be funded by NYSERDA for workforce development and the only campaign in this first round to receive funding for a low-to-moderate income (LMI) program to provide additional subsidies for LMI households, along with a multi-family retrofit project. HeatSmart CNY will address barriers to implementation of ground source and air source heat pumps, and promote an energy transition rooted in social justice. Everyone deserves an affordable, comfortable home and access to good jobs.


At HeatSmart CNY workshops, building owners can learn more about how heat pumps work, what they look like, and incentives and financing options. Like Solarize, installers will be there to answer your questions. We will host many open houses so that community members can see actual homes which already heat and cool with heat pumps. Many of these also power their heat pumps with solar panels—truly renewable heating and cooling!


The HeatSmart CNY campaign is starting in Syracuse and Onondaga County, and will move in 3-4 month campaigns through Cayuga, Cortland, Madison and Oswego counties. While people in the five counties can sign up at HeatSmartCNY.org for a consultation through May 2020, during the campaigns we’ll focus on communities which have high percentages of residents on oil and propane, and good community networks which can organize many homes and businesses to go geothermal or air source at the same time (for geothermal, this can drive down drilling costs). If you think your community is a good fit, tell us why on the website. The success of HeatSmart CNY will depend on volunteers and enthusiastic community partners. Come to our events to learn more and get involved, visit HeatSmartCNY.org or call Lindsay at 315-480-1515 to enroll or volunteer.


Upcoming Events

Geothermal Home Open House

Sunday, November 18, 2-4:30pm

Sunderlin Residence

305 E. Genesee St., Fayetteville NY

(Please park on side streets)


Lindsay is the Campaign Manager for HeatSmart CNY with Alliance for a Green Economy (AGREE). She is a longtime local community organizer on environmental and energy issues and also a member of Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation (NOON).