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Getting (Heat) Pumped

Micheal Tribes likes a challenge. He loves hiking and biking the rugged Yukon terrain, and in his younger years did 36-hour wilderness races involving hiking, map and compass navigation, biking, paddling, rock climbing, and ziplining. 

So when the inspiration came up to start a business, The Heatpump Guy, for his retirement years, Mike was all in. Mike has been meeting the heat pump installation and service needs of Whitehorse, Yukon, for nearly three years. 

It all started when a friend told him about his new heat pump, and he got curious.

“I installed two in my house to see if they provide the benefit that they’re supposed to. It’s a very efficient way to heat your house,” says Mike. “I was hooked and started installing them for people.”

A heat pump is a device that transfers heat from a cool space to a warm space by transferring thermal energy using a refrigeration cycle, cooling the cool space and warming the warm space.

Heat pumps are super efficient up to temperatures of minus 25, says Mike. After that, a back up source of heat is required, but it is still more efficient and cheaper to run heat pumps as a primary means of heating and cooling over gas-run furnaces. 

Living Here checked in with one of Mike’s customers to find out how heat pumps work up north.

Whitehorse’s Michael Tribes, aka “The Heat Pump Guy.” (All photos courtesy of Charun Stone)

Keep Your Customers Satisfied

Anton Solomon had Mike install a heat pump in his 1970s A-frame house. 

“We’ve had one day since we installed it two years ago where we had to use alternative heat sources. It is -35 degrees before it stops generating heat,” says Anton. 

Temperatures are changing in the north, says Anton.

“When I moved up here in 1997, [temperatures] of minus 40 for weeks at a time were common. Now we don’t see that more than once or twice a winter. The weather has consistently changed.”

Anton and his wife were looking for a better way to heat their home, and it was going to cost them six thousand dollars to replace their oil-burning furnace. 

“We thought, it’d be cheaper to put in a heat pump, and we’d have a better, more efficient heating system. After rebates, it cost us less than replacing the oil tank would have. It was a pretty easy decision to make,” says Anton. 

The couple is more comfortable in the summer due to their heat pump. 

“We are absolutely more comfortable,” Anton says. “We never had air conditioning before but the third floor can get hot in the summertime when we have 24-hour days. We also saw a 30 to 40% saving in our [energy bills] the first years.”

Anton feels better about the air quality. 

“There’s no combustion happening in the house. The air feels better. There is nothing about it we regret. It’s easy to run.”

Thanks to his heat pumps, Anton Solomon’s 1970s A-frame home stays toasty and warm during the legendary and frigid Whitehorse winters.

From Wishlist to Real Access

Mike is motivated by changes he has noticed around him. 

“Some of the areas I like to go canoeing and hiking have been impacted [by forest fires] and you can’t go where you want. It worries me that it’s getting worse. When I look at natural disasters and the temperatures, I think, what is it going to be 50 years from now?” says Mike.

Mike says accessing government heat pump grants is simple and convenient. 

Anton, however, thinks the process could be simplified for customers.

“Government processes tend to be longer than necessary and more complicated than useful. This was no exception,” says Anton. 

Anton worries that many folks won’t be able to pay 15 to 20 thousand dollars and then wait months for the rebate.

Mike would like to apply for the rebate on behalf of his customers, to make it easier for his customers. 

Anton thinks there should be more incentives for contractors to use heat pumps. 

“There is [little] incentive for contractors doing new builds to install a heat pump. They’re much less likely to do a heat pump as a baseboard is much cheaper,” says Anton.

Mike agrees more support is needed.

“The [Yukon government] needs to encourage developers to do more because the burden is on the homeowner to do the work. They need to integrate the grants so developers are encouraged to build [energy efficient] homes. They should encourage developers to put heat pumps in to be as efficient as possible.”

Mike would like to see the government do more to encourage developers to put heat pumps in so homes can be as efficient as possible.

Building Better Together

Mike’s work helps him to stay hopeful. 

“There are a lot of people trying to make a difference through small changes like installing heat pumps. The technology is getting better and cheaper. There is hope, and if we have governments that support it, we can do it.”

Anton agrees with Mike that governments could do more to push for change.

“Change has to be incentivized so that people will make the choice we did. If we can convince three people in power to do something different, something different will be done,” says Anton. “Every time I talk to anybody about heat pumps, I say, ‘Just get one.’”