Heat pumps are such a game-changer, heating or cooling our homes using electricity. And doing it cleanly?
Yes, if we clean them, which is something many home-owners don’t take into consideration. But failure to properly maintain mini-splits can have an impact on both efficiency and health.
If cleaned, heat pumps remove mold and bacteria from indoor air. If not maintained on schedule, however, they accumulate dust, dirt, hair, mold, pollen, and grease on the fan and coil, a breeding ground for bacteria which they then circulate. They can also lose 10-25% of their energy efficiency. An annual cleaning by a professional usually pays for itself in terms of electricity costs, with improved indoor air quality as icing on the cake.
But isn’t this something that can be done by the homeowner? No, according to Gabriel Erde-Cohen, owner of WeCleanHeatPumps in Westminster, Vt. Monthly cleaning of filters is essential to keeping a heat pump working efficiently. But most people only use a vacuum cleaner or acidic spray, which Erde-Cohen likens to washing your hands with cold water and no soap. It’s a superficial clean which doesn’t get at the gunk deposited on the coils. These are easy to damage; improper cleaning can leave them bent and rusting, and require costly repairs.
The technicians at WeCleanHeatPumps use specialized tools, a calibrated low-pressure washer, and biodegradable, nontoxic, non-acidic soap to clean deep inside the interior and exterior units, areas the homeowner never sees. “People don’t really know why I’m there until I start cleaning,” says Erde-Cohen. “If I invite a homeowner to watch me clean, they always understand.”
Erde-Cohen got into this business when his wife and father-in-law, heat pump installers with Saxtons River Solar, needed someone to clean the units they install. Erde-Cohen bought the specialized equipment and gleaned information on the internet from technicians in other countries. WeCleanHeatPumps is the first company in the U.S. focused solely on heat pump cleaning.
The environment is a strong motivator for Erde-Cohen, whose background is in small farming. Dirty heat pumps use more energy and deliver less heat or cooling. They’re a drain on the electrical grid. “I want to clean all of them,” Erde-Cohen says.
But indoor air quality is turning out to be the prime motivator for his customers. The difference can be dramatic. Customers mention that they’ve been sick for years, and that the deep cleaning provided by WeCleanHeatPumps has greatly improve their health. That’s even more important now, in the time of Covid-19. “I’m not going to claim that we can stop a virus,” Erde-Cohen said, but notes that air quality has been a significant factor in infection outcomes. As people spend more time at home, indoor air quality has become even more important.
WeCleanHeatPumps employs seven people, and serves Vermont, contiguous areas of Massachusetts, New York, and New Hampshire, and Martha’s Vineyard. The company creates partnerships with installation companies, and cleans all of Green Mountain Power’s leased units, as well as setting up annual contracts and one-time cleanings with individual home-owners. Technicians work alone; the job takes about an hour and a half, and the slurry of dirt and soap removed from the heat exchanger—gross, but biological in origin—can be safely dumped in the drain gutter or on the driveway.
Erde-Cohen sets prices so that he can pay his employees well, and make the cleaning pay for itself in electricity savings. Clean, filtered indoor air is a free and valuable bonus. Learn more at www.wecleanheatpumps.com.
Jessie Haas has written 40 books, mainly for children, and has lived in an off-grid cabin in Vermont.