The heat pump industry in Maine has exploded since what was then Bangor Hydro Electric Co. introduced a bill to establish the first state incentive program for heat pumps. The bill was signed into law by then-Gov. Paul LePage in 2013. Shortly thereafter, Efficiency Maine recognized the efficiency and benefits of these devices and has managed a popular statewide rebate program to promote the use of heat pumps in Maine since. Heat pump users now enjoy a competitive alternative to oil, gas and propane, while reducing impacts to the environment.

Kathy Heseltine stands near a heat pump, right, that was installed in the mobile home she shares with her husband in 2021 through an Efficiency Maine pilot program that replaced their furnace. She says they have found it makes their home more comfortable in the winter, cooler in the summer and less expensive to heat. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer, File

As the popularity of heat pumps has grown in the state, so has the heat pump sales and service industry, thereby providing sustainable jobs in Maine. Savings on heating bills, combined with efficient, quiet cooling, are the primary drivers for purchasing heat pumps, but many people don’t realize that heat pumps also offer one of the most cost-effective means of carbon reduction. When compared with solar panels, heat pumps reduce carbon emissions eight times more cost effectively. And the operational savings for heat pumps compared to oil or propane are far greater because of a heating seasonal efficiency of about 300%.

While heat pumps can be a total heating solution in more temperate parts of Maine, they may be challenged to provide enough heat at extreme cold temperatures. Supplement your heat pump with a secondary system to maintain comfort on those few winter days and nights where additional heat may be needed. I was an early adopter, and my first models continued to produce heat well below their rating of minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Over a three-year period, there were only a couple of days where it was cold enough in the Bangor area that my two heat pumps would not maintain the desired indoor temperature. Today’s heat pumps are rated to operate in even colder temperatures and can provide even more British thermal units at extreme cold.

Recently, as part of the Inflation Reduction Act, the federal government has created a further incentive of a 30% tax credit up to $2,000, in addition to the $800 rebate available from Efficiency Maine. As a result, Maine’s heat pump installers are poised to see even more growth. But are their customers getting the benefit of these new incentives, or are installers pocketing these incentives in the form of higher prices?

A condo owner adjacent to my condo in central Maine recently received numerous quotes ranging from $6,000 to $8,000 for a very simple 12,000 BTU/hr installation that should have cost less than $5,000 after the Efficiency Maine rebate, including the electrical work. Certainly, larger, more complex or multi-head systems will cost more.  However, single condenser/evaporator installations, where both units are in proximity to each other, are simple to install and in most cases can be done in less than four hours.

While I don’t begrudge installers getting a share of the opportunity created by both consumers’ strong demand and the government’s support of the technology, these rebates are for consumers, not for installers. Neither heat pump manufacturers nor installers have seen the magnitude of inflationary cost increases to justify these prices.

Customers should be cautious of price gouging and get multiple quotes. Do your homework and don’t be afraid to negotiate. Efficiency Maine has some great information on their website with many important considerations about installation. As a guide for consumers, Efficiency Maine should consider publishing some typical pricing ranges for systems of various sizes and configurations.

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