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Keeping cool with electric heat pumps

Each month, ClimateCast features a Story Spotlight, covering climate issues and clean energy solutions that prioritize human experiences and connections in communities across the Pacific Northwest.

All over the country — even in the Pacific Northwest — folks are experiencing another extreme, record-breaking heat wave with highs over 100°F. Stepping outside in these conditions is like walking into an oven. And if you’re in an older building without air conditioning, being indoors won’t offer much respite (like my 94°F Portland apartment). These sweltering temperatures have a wide variety of disruptive and dangerous effects, making heat relief and affordable cooling a lifeline and necessity for all.

A humble home HVAC hero

So, what is a heat pump, and how can it help? Despite having the word “heat” in their name, these machines can keep your home cool and comfortable year-round — even with the blazing summer heat outside as the appliance pumps the heat out when needed! Electric heat pumps can also keep your home warm and comfortable all winter.  Heat pumps are also the most energy-efficient home cooling option, using a fraction of the electricity that a conventional air conditioner or heater does. And if you own an electric vehicle, it’s possible to configure your home’s electrical system to draw from an EV’s batteries during a power outage, keeping the lights on and cool air flowing.

Watch this short video about why heat pumps are magic, especially when it’s hot out: 

screen still of heat pump video

WATCH: How electric heat pumps work

Heat pumps use less power

Adopting clean, energy-efficient technologies like electric heat pumps is a top priority for addressing climate pollution generated by buildings while ensuring that our homes remain comfortable and our communities resilient. When combined with other weatherization measures like air duct sealing, improved thermal insulation, double- and triple-pane windows, and energy-efficient electric appliances, adopting an electric heat pump can also produce major cost savings over time.

Making heat pumps more affordable

However, upfront costs can be a barrier to entry for many homeowners, and people who rent or lease usually don’t get a say in how their homes are heated and cooled. Thankfully, there are now several options for low-income renters and homeowners in the Northwest to stay cool while saving energy and doing their part to act on climate.

Check out this story for how incentives can help folks get heat pumps: 

Verde heat pump storytelling video thumbnail

WATCH: Francisco and his family now have access to life-saving cooling in their home, thanks to Verde, the Portland Clean Energy Fund, and the Energy Trust of Oregon.

In the past year, the cities of Seattle and Portland have launched programs to accelerate the deployment of free electric heat pumps (including portable units) for low-income families, prioritizing those at elevated risk of developing heat-related illnesses. Coupled with existing energy assistance programs that defray the costs of monthly utility bills and other home energy efficiency upgrades, these programs bring life-saving cooling into homes where they’re needed most. Additional rebates and other incentives for electric heat pumps and other energy-efficient appliances are available through the federal Inflation Reduction Act, Washington’s Climate Commitment Act, Energy Trust of Oregon, and the Oregon Department of Energy’s Rental Heat Pump Program and Community Heat Pump Deployment Program.

Our summers in the Pacific Northwest — formerly mild and comfortable — have become dangerously hot due to climate change. Extreme heat events are now the deadliest and most widespread climate-fueled disasters facing our nation. It’s time to make the switch — and these incentives give you the freedom to affordably get off fossil fuels.

Things you can do

  1. Share this story! Share this story on LinkedIn, Instagram, X/Twitter, and Facebook — you have the power to influence others!  
  2. Learn more about whether an electric heat pump is right for you; check out these local heat pumps testimonials from Portland, Seattle, and Ashland.
  3. Are you a renter or non-homeowner who wants more affordable cooling? Talk to your landlord or building owner to encourage them to install a heat pump and take advantage of state and federal savings.

Here's more information about the state incentives available for Washington and Oregon residents. Find your electric utility’s heat pump resource page below.

Washington utilities’ heat pump resource pages

Oregon utilities’ heat pump resource pages

* We could not locate a heat pump or energy efficiency incentive page on this utility’s website. Instead, we have provided a link to the most relevant page.

Author Bio

Photo of Jon Lee
Jonathan Lee

Storytelling and Digital Engagement Manager, Climate Solutions

Jonathan Toshio Lee (pronouns: he/him) is passionate about lifting up stories that educate, inspire, and make positive change. He has over a decade of experience in communications strategy, creating multimedia content, public policy advocacy, and promoting equity, diversity, and social justice. Before joining the Climate Solutions team, Jonathan worked in the crime victims' services field and served as a board member and volunteer with OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon.