No heat, no cooling, no problem – thanks to ReEnergize

Kitty Riley’s furnace started to fail last October – the worst time of year to try to get on an HVAC installer’s schedule. Little did she know that it would take until January to get the heat back on in her home.

This story has a happy ending, although it took three months to get there. Kitty is now the proud owner of a shiny new heat pump that’s not only keeping her house toasty warm in winter, but will also provide blessed cooling come summer. And thanks to rebate funds from ReEnergize Garfield County, the project didn’t break the bank.

Kitty’s townhouse, which sits on a high-density street in Carbondale, is 30 years old. For its age, it’s well insulated and has good windows. The furnace was as old as the house, though, and Kitty had known for a while that its days were numbered.

"It's not a small thing," Kitty Riley jokes about the external unit of her new heat-pump heating/cooling system.

On top of that, the house was hot in summer. The upstairs windows face southwest, collecting sunlight in the afternoons. Some days, the temperature upstairs would get close to 100 degrees, Kitty says, and the summers only seemed to be getting hotter and smokier. “I really wanted air conditioning,” she says.

Last March, Kitty saw a notice in the newspaper about ReEnergize assistance and realized she could qualify. As a retired schoolteacher, her income was under the program’s income cap of 120% of the Area Median Income.

“I thought, well, it won’t hurt to try,” she says. “So I did, and was awarded $5,000.”

The purpose of the ReEnergize program is to help low- and moderate-income homeowners and renters lower their utility bills and make their homes healthier and more comfortable. This year the cap has been raised to 150% of AMI, which means most households can qualify, with a maximum grant amount of $4,000. Qualifying households receive a free home energy assessment to identify the measures that will do the most good and save the most money.

ReEnergize funding is limited and is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Enroll now!

In most cases, the home energy assessment reveals a need for better insulation and weatherization, and since those measures provide the best bang for the buck, they’re usually prioritized. But that wasn’t an issue in Kitty’s home, so the entire $5,000 was able to go toward replacing the furnace.

There were choices. Kitty could have opted for a conventional gas furnace, for about $6,000, but that would have only provided heat, not cooling. She also received a quote for what’s called a mini-split heat-pump system, which pipes cool air in from an outdoor compressor via multiple wall-mounted units, but this proved unworkable.

In the end, she opted for a ducted heat-pump setup that tied into her old furnace’s ductwork, and hired Rifle-based Mountain Air Mechanical to do it. The total cost – parts, and installation and some extra electrical work – came to about $14,000. Subtracting the $5,000 ReEnergize grant, along with another $1,000 rebate expected from Xcel Energy, and the net cost to Kitty will end up being about $8,000.

That’s a steal of a price for a new central heating and cooling system. And, by the way, the deal on heat pumps is only going to get better.

New this year, Coloradans can get a 10% state tax credit on the purchase of a heat pump, and the Legislature is currently considering a bill that would up the credit to $1,500-$3,000 (depending on type). Even better, federal rebates authorized by the Inflation Reduction Act will start to become available later this year – low- to moderate-income households will be able to get up to $8,000 off the cost of a heat pump (the rebate is limited to $2,000 for households that don’t meet the income qualifications).

Kitty Riley’s experience illustrates why it’s best not to wait till fall to replace a furnace. Supply-chain issues and winter storms delayed delivery of the equipment, and then it took weeks to line up an electrician. It was a rough ride until Mountain Air was able to do the installation in mid-January, with temperatures inside the house dipping into the 40s. Fortunately, no pipes froze.

“I’m so happy with the heat pump,” Kitty says now. The heat is consistent and reliable, even when the outside temperature goes below zero, and the system is impressively quiet. One of Kitty’s gripes about the old furnace was that it often woke her up in the middle of the night when it roared on.

Air conditioning is the cherry on top. “I’m a winter person. I don’t really look forward to summer, but this summer will be really great,” Kitty says, adding that she’ll be able to invite friends over without worrying about the heat.

Will the heat pump save Kitty money on her utility bills? Experts advise against counting on big savings. Kitty’s latest gas bill was lower but her electricity bill was higher by about the same amount, which is to be expected when replacing a gas appliance with an electric one. The addition of air conditioning will no doubt increase her electric bills in the summer months.

“I didn’t go into this to save money,” Kitty says. “I needed a new furnace and I wanted AC for the summer. But this was an opportunity to get some help with the project, and in the end I did save money on it.” 

Increased comfort, saving on project costs and cleaner energy – that’s a win-win-win.