Survey Results: How Well Did Your Heat Pump Heat During the Polar Vortex? 

On February 9, 2023 we posted the following query to Front Porch Forum in Middlebury:

We here at the Climate Economy Action Center of Addison County are curious to know for those of you who heat your homes with heat pumps how they fared during Saturday’s frigid temperatures.

  1. How do you heat your house?
  2. How well did your heat pump work during  the frigid weather on Saturday?
  3. Overall,  what is your current opinion about your decision to heat with a heat pump?


We had 46 people respond to the survey. Here’s what we learned:

How do you heat your house?

Of the 46 respondents:

  • About one third of respondents heat their home entirely with heat pumps
  • About 11% of respondents heat their home mostly with a heat pump 
  • The remaining 56% heat partially with a heat pump.

How well did your heat pump work during  the frigid weather on Saturday?

When asked how well the heat pumps worked during the frigid weather, the 20 respondents who rely entirely or mainly on heat pumps reported that:

  • ⅓ of them said it worked fine and they did not have to rely on a back-up heat source
  • ⅔ said that the weather was too cold and they had to use a back-up heat source to help heat the house until it warmed up the next day

Overall,  what is your current opinion about your decision to heat with a heat pump?

When asked about their decision to heat with a heat pump, respondents were overwhelmingly happy or very happy with their decision to use heat pumps. This was true both for those who use heat pumps as their primary heat source, and those who use them as a supplemental heat source. 31 of the 46 respondents believe their decision to install a heat pump was a good decision, 

Good DecisionPoor Decision


Overall, it is encouraging that the vast majority of responding heat pump owners are quite happy with their decision, even when many used a backup source during this very cold night and day. 

In reading the comments, it is clear that many have a back-up heat source for extremely cold conditions, even though it is used very rarely.  The decision to have and to use a backup heat source is in part driven by homeowners’ tolerance for some period of cold temperatures in their houses.  How long it takes a house to cool off to an uncomfortable temperature when it is too cold for the heat pump to function depends on how tight and well-insulated the home is.  Some respondents reported confusion and conflicting advice about just what to do with your heat pump when it gets very cold. To fully understand the results, it would have helped to learn more about the age of the home, the amount of weatherization, the age of the equipment. It would also be interesting to learn more about was the equipment installed by the home owner or by the landlord, as well as information about whether or not the heat pump has over time saved money. 

Since this informal survey is far from a scientific study, it is worth reading a recent NY Times article on how heat pumps perform in cold weather As Heat Pumps Go Mainstream, a Big Question: Can They Handle Real Cold? ( ) The article shows the growth in the number of heat pumps in the US, documents the cost and environmental savings associated with them, and points to improvements in the technology that allow them to function effectively even in the coldest of climates.  Cold-climate heat pumps sold today will function down to  -18 to -20 degrees F. A similar article in the Boston Globe Heat pumps had their first major local test last weekend. Here’s how it went. ( ) tells much the same story.

Comments from Respondents

Here are selected comments from respondents. It is possible that some of our respondents have older heat pumps that lose effectiveness at higher temperatures, like 5 or 10 degrees F instead of -18. 

  • Other than the one evening of severe cold, the system is more than adequate to efficiently  heat and cool our home.  
  • First time in five years that the backup has been needed. 
  • Only had to use backup for a few hours. Worked much better than expected!
  • I have 34 solar panels and feel good that I can heat mostly from energy gathered on my roof.
  • Heat pumps are great, but I’m glad I had another source to supplement during the bitter cold. They just don’t work well at -20 degrees. 
  • The house was 48 degrees when I got up that morning, so I turned on the oil furnace and my propane stove in the sunroom to catch up.  99% of the time, I don’t need either of those, but when it goes much below zero, it’s a good idea.
  • The heat pump was my sole source of heat until the temp went below 10 degrees. Then I found it necessary to turn on my oil-fueled heat via my boiler.
  • We combine it with my oil hot water system.  Heat pump was still producing heat during frigid temperatures. Oil consumption has definitely decreased since heat pump installation.  
  • I feel the heat pump saves me money about 95% of the time. And with my grid-tied PV solar array installed at the same time, it’s cleaner energy than the fuel oil I otherwise burn.
  • I love my heat pump. I was impressed with how well it worked in those temps!
  • We ran our oil furnace to keep radiator pipes on outer walls from freezing
  • The heat pumps did just fine all the way down to Zero but when the temperature dipped below zero I had to resort to the furnace.
  • We heat with heat pumps and wood and are happy with that, but we’re not ready to take out the baseboard system just yet.
  • I love them! 
  • I just bumped it several degrees up and it could have kept up. I didn’t really need the secondary source but turned it on to ease the stress on the heat pumps
  • We use our heat pumps for heating down to about +15 degrees F.  If colder than that, they are much less efficient so we prefer to switch over to our primary heating system (natural gas).
  • It’s 8 years old. a slow leak over the years made efficiency go gradually down to no heat….Now getting a new one (2 heads , like the first one), and changing location of heads to EXTERIOR WALLS. ….. Overall, BETTER THAN USING FOSSIL FUELS.
  • I got a small amount of warmth from the pump when really cold but even with a wood stove going too it was only about 62 in the main living area. 
  • My decision to heat with cold climate heat pumps was good, but I definitely needed a back up system and last weekend proved it.  The pumps literally would not work and needed to be shut down.  They were also using the most electricity they ever have (resistance heat).
  • Back of house only heated with heat pump.. needed to use extra heater on Sat in one room. Other room very new construction and held the heat better..
  • When the temp goes below positive 5 degrees,  we turn it off and let the propane furnace heat the house.  This has only happened five or so days/year in our four years of experience.

Reading Group for Braiding Sweetgrass Meeting on March 7th

After a wonderful evening in December spent discussing Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Ministry for the Future”, we’ll be meeting again on March 7th at 7 PM at the Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society in Middlebury to read Robin Wall Kimmerer’s “Braiding Sweetgrass”.  John Elder has once again graciously volunteered to facilitate this conversation. As John writes :

“Braiding Sweetgrass has meant a great deal to many people–including me! Kimmerer’s emphasis on reciprocity with the earth and her chapter on the Great Thanksgiving have profound implications for how we need to lead our lives, both individually and as an earth-oriented community. Such transformation will be essential to our collective capacity to change our economic system as well as help us gain humility and wisdom in our use of technology.”


Presentation of the Latest Addison County Greenhouse Inventory Results on November 30

How much greenhouse gas do we release in Addison County, Vermont? What activity produces the most? Will we reach 2030 goals? In what ways should we act locally? Addison County’s Climate Economy Action Center produced GHG inventories in 2017 and 2020 to address such questions. This presentation will describe the methods and results of the inventory project.


Duncan Kreps, Midd ‘24

Richard Hopkins, CEAC Board Member

Date: Wednesday November 30, 2022

Time: 4:30 PM

Location: Axinn Center, Room 229, Middlebury College

Reading Group for Ministry for the Future

We will gather on December 6th at 7 PM the Middlebury CVUUS  to discuss Kim Stanley Robinson’s acclaimed novel “The Ministry for the Future” –which was described as “masterly” by the New Yorker and of which Bill McKibben wrote, “One hopes that this book is read widely”. Our conversation will be facilitated by John Elder, emeritus professor of English and Environmental Studies at Middlebury.
In order to allow time for interested folks to read this substantial novel, please let us know if you are interested in coming and also if you would like to be included in a bulk-order for copies of the book through the Vermont Book Shop by filling out this form.

We’re Hiring! Be CEAC’s Community Climate Program Manager

You could be meaningfully engaged in climate actions in Vermont’s Champlain Valley!

The nonprofit Climate Economy Action Center of Addison County (CEAC) seeks a part-time Community Climate Program Manager (CCPM). The CCPM will play a vital role in building and maintaining the CEAC network and in implementing CEAC’s ambitious Climate Action Plan. The goal: help direct our community’s efforts to bring down greenhouse gas emissions while growing a sustainable local economy. The job description provides more details about the role.

Applications will be accepted through December 5th or until the position is filled.

Please submit applications to Steve Maier via email to . Applications should include a cover letter, resume, three references, and up to three relevant work samples.

CEAC Summer Intern Report on Decarbonizing Commercial and Industrial Properties in Addison County

Aidan Shepardson

CEAC: Climate Action Policy Intern

Summer 2022

Over the course of the summer, I engaged in a variety of tasks that allowed me to delve deeply into the most prominent climate issues facing Addison County at present. Thanks to the fantastic work of CEAC board members and interns prior, I was able to utilize the Climate Action Plan and the pre-existing Greenhouse Gas Inventory to guide my efforts and more fully understand the largest leakage points for emissions in our county. While there is still significant work to be done in identifying and implementing CEAC’s vision and role in county-wide efforts to reducing our emissions, we have taken meaningful strides this summer in building out next steps for our organization to take regarding finding our feet in our fight against the climate crisis and more effectively establishing ourselves as a force for change in the county. 

At the outset of the summer, I was given three primary tracks to follow that would likely guide much of the work I would be undertaking in my time with CEAC. The first, which we quickly coined as the “Electrify Everything” Campaign, was identifying the best ways to coordinate outreach with commercial and industrial property owners seeking to invest in electrification services in their buildings. By encouraging these individuals to consider the long-term climate implications of their decisions, as well as the energy savings and resilience that efficiency investments provide, our hope was that more owners would begin to transition to electrified HVAC systems and thereby reduce their building emissions. Through meetings with the ACRPC, ACEDC, Efficiency Vermont, Nathan Hill of Collins Aerospace, as well as individual data analysis work using housing data from the Middlebury, Bristol, and Vergennes Town Offices, we were able to build out the beginnings of an implementation plan for the Buildings & Energy section of our Climate Action Plan. This work, ultimately culminating in early stages of a commercial property inventory for Addison County, which can hopefully be built upon and utilized to focus our efforts for outreach in the coming months. This project was also bolstered by meetings with Rose Wall of Efficiency Vermont, Nathan Hill of Collins Aerospace, Madison Shropshire of the ACRPC, and Fred Kenney at the ACEDC, all of whom have provided guidance and access to materials that will continue to contribute to our efforts to spread commercial utilities electrification across our county. 

The second project I was initially involved in was helping Lindsey Berk at ACORN with information for a grant proposal, specifically focusing on electric delivery vans. This led me to doing extensive research on the various EV incentives available to Vermont residents and business owners, as well as the availability of EVs generally in today’s market. I compiled this research into a succinct recommendation document for ACORN, and compiled a larger matrix of soon-to-come electric delivery van options that are emerging into the market in coming years.

The third initial project was providing support to John Barstow in his pitch to Middlebury College regarding the provision of on-campus EV charging stations, of which we have very few. In this support, I conducted research on the number of EV charging stations on the campuses of partner institutions and cross-referenced these with the respective institutions’ sustainability commitments. In building out this reference matrix, it became abundantly clear that while Middlebury has some of the most robust sustainability commitments of any top-tier colleges and universities nationally, it has some of the fewest EV charging stations of its NESCAC and NESCAC-adjacent counterparts. This research similarly revealed state-wide trends in EV charging availability, such as the apparent lack of chargers in Connecticut in comparison to Massachusetts and New York. 

These three projects allowed me to understand the types of work CEAC was prioritizing in these early implementation stages of their Climate Action Plan, but also showed me how malleable this work was. Upon completion of aspects of these projects, I began to think more deeply about the overarching role that CEAC hoped to play in Addison County’s emissions reduction journey. In participating in and analyzing the process by which CEAC articulated our desire for the new Summit Properties development in Middlebury to be fully electric, I began to observe the stated desire for emissions reductions to be central to any development projects in the county, but also the limited reach of a local non-profit like CEAC. This realization is what prompted me to build a series of questions for an interview process, during which we would ask individuals who had previously engaged with CEAC how they viewed CEAC operating in our county, and what kind of value and services our organization could provide to organizations, businesses, and individuals in our community. While this interview outline was not eventually utilized, my hope is that it will be included in an outline for our Community Advisory Board meeting in September, and the questions I wrote would be utilized to help us more concretely understand the role that CEAC will play in our county in months and years to come. 

I supplemented this work also with generating visual content for CEAC, with early drafts of resource toolkits for Weatherization, Commercial Electrification, and Residential Electrification completed, as well as deliverables and branding for the Addison County Field Days Event. I hope to continue to work on these into the fall, to hopefully have more developed toolkits to be distributed by the time a CEAC Summit or other event could be held.

My final summer contribution to CEAC was deciding on two grants for CEAC to apply for in the coming months. Both the VHCB Rural Economic Development Initiative Grant and the Vermont Community Foundation Non-Profit Capacity Building Grant have relatively easy applications and approval processes, and feel like concrete steps towards securing funding for part-time paid staffers that would allow CEAC to move beyond the fully-volunteer stage of non-profit formation. The VHCB grant specifically provides funding for grant-writing assistance, while the VCF grant allocates funds more generally for strategic planning and implementation, both of which CEAC requires in the coming months. Hopefully we can begin to execute on these processes to secure more funding for future implementation projects that we identify as high-priority. 

On the whole, I am incredibly grateful for my time with CEAC this summer. I am happy to have built stronger connections to Addison County and relationships with its residents and, more specifically, the members of the board with whom I worked so closely this summer. While there were points that my internship felt unguided, it was rewarding to feel as though I was contributing to the establishment of our organization’s identity, and feel as though I was asking helpful questions regarding how those of us internal to the organization feel CEAC will continue to progress. I think that future Climate Action Policy interns by default will have more structure than I did, because CEAC will be further along in its awareness of its goals as well as its boundaries, which will make deciding on tasks for the intern easier and more narrowly focused. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the free-flowing nature of the internship, but is more a comment on the stage at which CEAC is located as an organization in my eyes. 

As I see it, CEAC remains at a crossroads where we must decide whether we would like to become a public advocacy organization, working closely with local government to incorporate sustainability into local development ordinances to codify our goals into local legislation; a facilitator of public or non-profit efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that does little to engage with elected town officials and focuses heavily on individual action; the organizer of a network of volunteers who we can utilize for our own implementation projects in a way that is independent of other sustainability organizations in our county; or some combination of the three. While we have taken meaningful strides in creating an implementation plan and have begun to make decisions along these lines, in my time as an intern it became clear that solidifying our role in the community around our mission of reducing emissions is imperative to moving forward as an organization. Taking more steps such as the establishment of Climate Action Teams and the coalition model are essential, and I am excited to continue to build out CEAC’s role in our community for the rest of my time at Middlebury.

Call for Participation: Help Conduct Interviews About Home Heating  

CEAC is helping Middlebury College’s Sustainability Solution Lab on a project  to survey local residents about their thoughts on home heating in order to understand what it takes for households to reduce energy consumption and switch away from fossil fuels.

CEAC is looking for volunteers to spend up to two full Saturdays in September or October carrying out door-to-door survey work in various towns around Addison County.   The topic of the survey is how people heat their homes, how they would like to change the heating, insulation and tightness of their homes, what barriers they perceive to making the improvements they would like to make, and their views on how long it should take to earn back savings from energy investments.  Survey respondents are anonymous.  

The sample for the survey includes 210 single-family homes, and is currently just about half complete.  Each survey takes about a half hour to complete. Surveyors will go in pairs and will typically have groups of seven addresses to go to in close proximity to each other. A team can finish 14 contacts in a day.  Surveyors will need to complete Middlebury College’s on-line human subjects protection training before they go in the field.    Experience so far is that between 60% to 70% of contacted homes agree to an interview.  The main logistical problem the interviewers have had so far is that the people who agree to be interviewed have a lot to say.  To volunteer, please fill in the online form; and/or call Richard Hopkins at  850-544-7614 for more information.


Weatherization for all, not just the experts

by Maddison Shropshire,Addison County Regional Planning Commission

Weatherization and energy efficient appliances are some of the best ways an individual can reduce their energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, the costs and complexity of these projects are a big hurdle for many and the many programs available for support only add to the confusion. The key to weatherization is that you don’t need to know every step in the process, just the right person to call for help. Here are two programs (one for low to moderate incomes, and one for all residents) that are designed to walk you through the complex process of weatherization so you don’t have to be an expert to save money and enjoy a more comfortable home. 

Green-Saving Smart

Green-Saving Smart is a new program from the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity that provides financial energy coaching services. These coaches help participants to develop a personalized spending plan, explore savings opportunities, and identify ways to reduce energy usage. They then support you in accessing the resources to achieve these goals with guidance throughout the process. More information about the coaching experience can be found here

Eligibility: This program is designed to serve any household at or below 80% State Median Family Income (MFI) OR or at or below 120% MFI if you identify as belonging to a Black, Indigenous, Person of Color (BIPOC), New American, or single parent head-of-household.

You can connect with this program in one of two ways:

  1. Complete the application online using this link. Your energy coach will contact you directly with next steps. 
  2. Jen Myers is the Finance and Energy Coach for Addison County. She can be reached by phone at (802) 860 – 1417, extension 113 or by email at

Neighborworks HEATSquad

HEAT Squad is part of the non-profit Neighborworks of Western VT and has been operating in Addison Co. for many years. It is well respected for its client services and the connections it has built with other energy efficiency programs and incentives. HEAT Squad will help to plan and coordinate your project providing energy audits, home and energy loans and incentives, and help to identify contractors to complete the work. 

Eligibility: The HEAT Squad is able to serve anyone in the region. 

You can connect with this program by:

  1. Completing the form on their website.
  2. Contact HEAT Squad via phone at 802-438-2303 or email and indicate you are interested in weatherizing your home. 

Don’t know who to contact first? No worries, a quick phone call with either of these programs will tell you who can best serve your family. 

Want to share what you’ve learned with your neighbors? Printable materials for both of these programs are available here (HEAT Squad, GreenSavingSmart). Contact Maddison Shropshire ( at the Addison County Regional Planning Commission for help with outreach materials and municipal project support.