UPPCO and Ontonagon Village Housing Commission Team Up
to Warm Homes and Save Money with Heat Pumps
As part of a phased energy efficiency improvement project, UPPCO and the Ontonagon Village Housing Commission (OVHC) have installed 36 cold climate mini-split heat pumps in the last year. Not only are these heat pumps saving energy and money, but residents are enjoying the quiet, reliable heating and cooling. UPPCO and OVHC have a long history of collaboration, dating back to 1968, when they received the “All-Electric Building Award,” for cutting edge electrical achievements.
Since then, through UPPCO’s Energy Waste Reduction Program, OVHC has diligently pursued energy conservation and efficiency. Weatherization of all 60 housing units prepared the OVHC units for installation of mini-split heat pumps, by reducing energy consumption and heat loss. This ensures the heat pumps can function at maximum efficiency, keeping residents warm and saving energy and money.
Mini-split heat pumps are combined heating and cooling systems, which use refrigerants and compressors to move heat from one place to another. In cold weather, heat pumps draw heat from the outside air and move it into a home. They are extremely efficient, functioning at up to 300% efficiency, as they don’t rely on burning a fuel or heating an element. Additionally, mini-split heat pumps are excellent heating sources in cold climates, since they can successfully heat in temperatures as cold as -20°F.
The results of these heat pump installations have been overwhelmingly positive. Karen Jackson, Executive Director of OVHC, reports a reduction in electric costs of approximately $5000 in the past year, money which OVHC can use to provide other necessary services to its residents, most of whom are elderly and/or disabled, according to Jackson. The heat pumps supplement the existing electric baseboard heating, providing consistent, efficient, and quiet heat, controlled by the touch of a remote control button. Now, residents report satisfaction with what they describe as a more even and better quality heat.
“It seems to be a warmer heat than the older system,” said OVHC resident Carlene. “The air circulates more with this system and seems to be cleaner. I find it easier to breathe.” The 78 year old went on to call her new mini-split heat pump “the best heating system I have had.”
An unexpected benefit of the new heat pumps has been their function as air conditioning in the summer. While the Upper Peninsula doesn’t see very many uncomfortably hot and humid summer days, few OVHC residents had access to air conditioning before the heat pump upgrade and couldn’t beat the heat when it arrived. Now, they rave about how quickly the mini-split heat pumps draw the humidity out of the air, and how nice it is to be able stay cool on those sticky summer days. Jackson was initially concerned that increased use as air conditioning in the summer would cause an increase in the OVHC’s electric bill. Instead, she was pleasantly surprised to find that this summer’s bills were slightly lower than in past years.
Initially, the UPPCO/OVHC collaboration planned to install 12 heat pumps each year from 2019 to 2023, as part of a multi-year staged project. With the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders, UPPCO accelerated the project, helping more OVHC residents stay warm and conserve money and energy while sheltering in place. To date, 36 heat pumps have been installed.
By 2023, this collaboration between UPPCO and OVHC will upgrade the remaining 24 residential units to mini-split heat pumps. In addition to bringing comfortable and reliable heat and cooling to residents, the heat pumps have a projected total lifetime energy savings of nearly 3 million kilowatt hours, which will result in a savings of approximately $640,000, at current residential energy costs. That’s a win-win.
UPPCO offers rebates for the installation of a new mini-split heat pump amongst a number of other items. The rebate applications can be found here if you’re ready to start saving energy right now!