There’s nothing scarier than someone who wants to talk to you about heat pumps for four hours

October 31, 2023

__There’s nothing scarier than someone who wants to talk to you about heat pumps for four hours __

*By Sarah Lazarovic, Head of Communications, Creative, and Consumer Engagement, Rewiring America *

My friends and family take Halloween very seriously. I take not taking Halloween seriously very seriously. That is, I hated Halloween, until I got a heat pump costume. For our ‘work’ here at Rewiring America, of course. It might seem silly, but a cardboard costume is one of the most effective ways of getting our message out. And I’m now the biggest fan of these suckers. Here’s why:

⚡Most people don’t know what a heat pump looks like. Even people who have heat pumps.

This isn’t super surprising. Heating and cooling systems are there to reliably heat and cool your home. They’re not a thing you hang out with unless they’re on the fritz, or you’re an HVAC tech, or you just have a penchant for drinking tea next to large appliances.

But wear a heat pump costume and people will take visual note of your boxy comportment and ask you what you are. They’ll remember you, and all the wise things you said, when they see news about heat pumps. And when the moment comes to replace their own heating and cooling system, they’ll have thought about you, and maybe even made some contractor inquiries. Which is key, because we can’t afford to lock in another generation of fossil-fueled appliances. And because if you only decide to get a heat pump when yours breaks in the middle of winter, the decision to get a heat pump may already be a nonstarter, as your home might require electric work. It’s important to get Rewiring Ready. Do that by talking to someone in a heat pump costume well in advance of your appliance upgrades.

While wearing a heat pump suit, here are just a few of the fun facts I share with people:

Heat pumps are three to five times more efficient than a furnace. That means you’re using less energy to stay just as warm. They heat AND cool, because they’re the Pert Plus of thermal comfort. Which means you are buying two appliances for the price of one and they take up less space in your home. Heat pumps are more comfortable, as they provide steady temperatures, with no cycling on and off. They’re one of the best ways to lower your household emissions. When I installed mine, our household emissions went down by 75 percent. I’d have to recycle ‘til I was 4,000,329 years old to come anywhere close to such meaningful emissions reductions. (Recycling is still awesome, and we should all do it.)

__⚡Most people don’t know what ‘electrification’ is or what it looks like. __

By our research, only 27% of Americans claim knowledge of electrification. This makes sense. It’s an amorphous term, only recently recontextualized as a definition for the conversion of a home from fossil-fueled appliances to electric ones, and not, you know, just getting electricity 💡.

We’ve got to make people aware of this new, necessary switch very quickly. Which is why anything that provides a foot in the door to a conversation is a great start, even if we can’t get our whole body through the door without turning sideways. After learning about heat pumps, people ask the larger question: Why electrification? While everyone’s motivation will be different, electrification is about cost (reduced), care (for your family’s health), cleanliness (improved), control (over your own power), community (jobs), and, of course, climate (we’ve got to get the fossil fuels out of all 124 million households). ⚡Most people don’t know how much climate power they have.

Almost 42 percent of our energy-related emissions come from the home — how we heat, cool, cook, drive, and do laundry. That’s a HUGE amount of leverage to effect real change in our world. What’s more, these are swaps we can do as our appliances break and at the pace that works for each of us. Swap out the five or six fossil-fueled appliances for the clean, electric alternatives as we go, and watch emissions abate, and our homes’ health and comfort improve. Putting in a heat pump can reduce our household emissions by 2.8 tons. That’s a lot. It’s one of the biggest, quickest ways to lower our emissions.

__⚡Dressing up as a large, inanimate object is a joyful way to make energy efficiency fun and inspire community dialogue. __

When I do dress up for Halloween, I favor large objects like bananas and hot dogs. These are absurd get-ups that tell my neighbors that I am a weird, approachable person-hot dog. Electrification happens at the community level. You ask your neighbor if they like their new EV, heat pump, or induction stove before you charge forward yourself. You get recommendations from friends for good contractors, and reputable tradespeople. And it’s helpful to see someone going electric in a house that is similar to yours. We’re normative creatures. We do what the people around us do. This is why all my friends and neighbors now wear heat pump costumes.

If you’re not into costumes, fear not. You can also just throw a heat pump party, and invite your neighbors over for some terribly unattractive heat pump cookies and spark(l)ing conversation.

Electric energy at a Heat Pump Happy Hour

__⚡ It’s good for the ‘Gram. __

In an ever-saturated media landscape, climate needs low-cost tools to win hearts and minds and Meta feeds. Visuals that stop a scroll and inspire curiosity are key. It’s why our costumes are climate catnip at community activations, where electric fans line up to take pics with our human-filled, electric-powered fans. I defy anyone to scroll past a person in a pump. It’s harder than decarbonization at scale. A few weeks ago we gave away a heat pump costume in our newsletter (subscribe, whydon’tcha?) Hundreds of submissions later, we awarded a heat pump habit to Christine Abernathy, Director of Housing Justice, at the Marian Cheek Jackson Center. She embodies all that is cool and hot in the world. Here's her winning entry:

I work in housing justice in 3 historically Black communities in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Dressing up as a heat pump for our local Halloween party in the neighborhood is the perfect way to start a conversation about home repairs and energy efficiency. A local Black organizer who studied environmental sciences recently said “The only time the Black community was mentioned in our study was as when they were written about as an environmental threat.” The community I work in is deeply interested in the environment and in environmental racism. I have had many conversations with homeowners around solarizing their homes and heard many community aspirations of living in reciprocity with nature. I would love a fun conversation starting costume for this season and I believe our neighborhoods would be very receptive.

You don't need to be an electric expert! I’m not an HVAC tech, but I’ve gotten a dozen friends and neighbors to install heat pumps, connecting them to energy experts and contractors, smoothing the process however I can. But we need a large, nerdy, heat pump like me on every block. Maybe that large, nerdy heat pump on your block is YOU? We’re building out the tools to grow a corps (corpse if you’re a zombie Heat Pump!) of climate communicators in tights, and we need all kinds of skill sets to communicate this massive transformation to the world at lightning speed. Join us!

Climate communications have long suffered from a lack of fun. Our messaging has been dour, and less than actionable. We need people to do more, not live less. In the words of our co-founder, Saul Griffith, possibility is the antidote to paralysis. It’s possible to make real change in your home, your community, and your world. Costumes optional but encouraged.