MTU grad suggests efficient living for UP

Some homes may be able to operate off the grid with proper equipment
This is a recording of the TV6 Early News.
Published: Dec. 21, 2021 at 3:05 PM EST
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HOUGHTON, Mich. (WLUC) - MTU Graduate Nelson Sommerfeldt says solar panels and electric heat pumps may be the answer to the high costs of heating and cooling homes in the UP.

He says an electric heat pump alone can be more efficient than most propane or floorboard heater systems.

“They’re called air-to-air heat pumps or a mini-split,” said Sommerfeldt. “It’s able to take heat – even on a day like today take heat from the outside and bring it inside.”

“It works just like your refrigerator, but backward,” he added.

Homeowner Caleb Wendel says his system in Houghton is so efficient it’s entirely off the grid.

With his solar panels and a heat pump – he doesn’t need utility companies.

“We have lots of extra solar power. It’s free air conditioning all summer,” said Wendel. “Then when we have sun, especially in the shoulder season, it’s almost all of our heat too.”

Wendel says he also installed a wood stove in his house for additional heating as needed through winter.

An electric heat pump can cost between $2,000-5000. Combining that with enough solar power for a 2,000-square-foot home – an entire setup can cost as much as $50,000.

“It’s basically a much more efficient electric heater,” said Sommerfeldt. “People are probably familiar with just the resistive heater you have under your desk, or on the wall.”

“These are two to three times more efficient,” added Sommerfeldt.

Sommerfeldt says adding just an electric heat pump to a home can reduce its greenhouse emissions by up to 30%.

If combined with solar panels the reduction could be as great as 50%.

“They’re easier to install than you think,” said Wendel. “There are multi-head units that you can have one condenser on the outside and two units on the inside. So, you can do a whole house with it also.”

Electric heat pumps may not be the solution for all homeowners right now.

But – it does demonstrate the future of energy-efficient living in the UP.

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