To Need Is To Plead: America’s Flirtation With Heat Pumps Gets Serious

The Burgundy brick of a high rise, part of Walt Whitman houses in Brooklyn, NY
Walt Whitman Houses photo by IaIvanova is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Look closely at this Walt Whitman high rise, part of a public housing project in Brooklyn, New York. A few tiny air conditioners are visible, purchased and installed by those who can afford them. Can every window soon be filled by a heat pump, delivering cool in high summer, and all-important heat in the winter?

Heat Pumps: just who is pleading for this trendy technology in America? Public Housing is who, and not just some potty little local Housing Authority with a handful of old apartment units falling down from neglect. No, the interested party is the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), America’s greatest concentration of existing public housing, much of which is desperately in need of refurbishing and taking on the challenge of ‘going green/decarbonizing’ at the same time.

The solution? Heat pumps, supposedly. They are already a common feature in the rest of the world. But, it must be emphasized that there is no evidence quite yet of heat pumps that will be cheap, easy to install in a window frame like an air conditioner and, all importantly, able to cope with New York City’s winter climate.

Notwithstanding this little ‘they don’t exist quite yet’ hiccup, NYCHA, along with the New York State Power Authority have gambled, held a competition for their development and chosen two winners.

There follows an article about the current state of the contest, the winners, and the parameters required of the successful design.

If you want to learn more about why they don’t yet measure up for colder climates without a backup heat source, we’re in love with a zany heat pump explainer/installer who is pretty entertaining. He makes it easy to understand how heat pumps work, and how current models can promise more than they can deliver, particularly in older, poorly insulated housing.

There is a great deal at stake in NYCHA’s gamble. A simple-to-install, cold weather performer that both cools in summer and heats in winter could profoundly affect many millions, even billions who are striving to realize a Human Right To Habitable Housing.

Read more about the NYCHA story in ADVISOR PERSPECTIVES: A Heat Pump With DIY Installation Can Decarbonize Public Housing

And/or take a beginner’s lesson in existing heat pumps, their strengths and weaknesses, from  This is Why Heat Pumps May NOT Be The Future