Notes From The Heat Pump Battlefront Lines

A photographer wearing a toque
Brown ribbed hat FO photo by chriss is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Can the Human Right to Adequate Housing be covered by a tuque?

Forgetful as always, it’s time to quiz our readers on what we’ve been reporting. We need all the help we can get.

Heat pumps? Yes, we know we’ve been there, done that, just recently.

But did we say we have a daughter living on Vancouver Island who owns, not an air exchange heat pump (wimpy) but a muscular ground exchange beast, much more expensive. It draws both heat and coolth (depending on the season) from the layer of earth’s insulation that protects crops and which gives us life as we know it on earth.

We wondered if we’ve shared our heat pump bewilderment: why, all this winter long when we Zoom with this remote offspring and her significant other, are they always wearing tuques? Indoors. It was particularly true this year, which was an unusually cold winter on Vancouver Island.

Which brings us to another matter, continuing with our homespun reporting, that we may have mentioned before. Another daughter has a close friend who lives in Norway, where the air exchange heat pumps have achieved a much greater market penetration than Canada’s puny uptake so far. The parents of our daughter’s buddy agree that their heat pump needs an auxiliary heat source for those colder winter nights. Nothing like cozy open-fireplace flames to conjure up a romantic idyll in a Norwegian mountain cabin1!

But . . . not perhaps so idyllic for the home environment of a post this January. It featured the promise, if not quite the reality, of air based (wimpy) heat pumps installed in many thousands of NYCHA windows. That would be the New York City Housing Authority’s windows in its social housing buildings.

That story featured competing mechanical engineering pioneers who might well be weeks or months away from a breakthrough design of air based heat pumps (wimpy, at least so far) that will solve all of NYCHA’s next generation heating problems2. No mention of auxiliary winter heat sources. Perhaps NYCHA is planning supplementary tuques.

Hats off to NYCHA for challenging competitors to come up with heat pumps both effective and efficient before installing them by the thousands in New York City windows.

The Canadian Province of Nova Scotia has announced plans to install heat pumps in 200 homes for tenants with very low incomes. The heat pumps will come with insulation upgrades, and new air circulation systems.

The heat pumps are replacing oil furnaces and will reduce emissions, an important step to improving air quality and minuscule nod in the direction of slowing down global warming. As well, officials expect that energy costs will go down. It isn’t clear whether this saving will accrue to the government or the tenant, but would be a good result either way.

Will it be enough to warm the homes in the winters3, or will it be decidedly ‘tuques on?’ Read more in this announcement from the Government of Nova Scotia: Energy Upgrades for Cape Breton Public Housing

Anyway, considering this post to be an extended cautionary tale, we’d like to offer up an opinion from a company that actually installs heat pumps for folks in the United Kingdom who can afford them. Bottom line, a heat pump isn’t going to make a social housing tenant’s day with the current state of their homes and at current costs. Read more at CITYA.M.: Heat pumps too expensive to meet social housing needs, warns Sureserve

Human Rights Perspective: Tuques Ahoy4?

Will installing heat pumps move Nova Scotia, the United Kingdom, and the United States toward the right to adequate housing? Here are two United Nations criteria for adequate housing, which would seem to apply when thinking about heat pumps:

    • “housing is not adequate if it does not … provide … energy for heating (and)
    • “housing is not adequate if it does not … provide … protection against the … cold.”

These criteria are part of the United Nations fact sheet about the right to adequate housing. The fact sheet also traces the right to adequate housing to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The United Kingdom, the United States, Norway and Canada are all parties to the Universal Declaration. Try: Office of the High Commissioner For Human Rights: The Right to Adequate Housing


  1. Try: After Suitable Caution, We’re Pumping Our Fists For Norwegian Heat Pumps
  2. Try: To Need Is To Plead: America’s Flirtation With Heat Pumps Gets Serious
  3. For more on the art of balancing heat pumps with air circulation and insulation in a Canadian climate, Try: Is EnerPHit the Future of Affordable Housing?
  4. In making this reference, we should point out the longstanding work of Raising the Roof, which includes creating new homes and providing employment training and work opportunities for people who experience homelessness. Raising the Roof raises funds for its work via its annual tuque campaign.