Sustainability Recipe: Renewable Heat

March 7, 2018

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Sustainability Life Recipes provide practical tips to go green and save green. Each recipe features strategies that save money while protecting the environment and contributing to good jobs for people in our community.

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Produced in collaboration with Smart Energy Choices (formerly Get Your Greenback)

Did you know that even with unusually low natural gas, oil and propane prices, you can still cut your bills by switching to a renewable heating source, and reduce your carbon emissions and contribute to a stronger local economy?

Sources: GYGB Modelling. *For average Tompkins County home with average levels of weatherization. **Compared to heating with propane. November 2015 (propane at $2.02/gallon; electricity $0.11/kWh). ***0 if using green power, like solar.WHAT ARE MY OPTIONS?

  1. Wood. While burning firewood in a stove has been done for centuries, modern wood stoves have significantly reduced the amount of air pollution and can often heat a whole home--if it's been weatherized.

  2. Wood pellets. Pellets are made from sawdust and low-quality trees, and, like wood, can be used to heat a whole house. There are many regionally-produced pellets. NYSERDA is currently offering a $1,500-2,500 rebate on pellet stoves for residences that are not served by natural gas. CCE-Tompkins is offering an additional $500 for homes that do energy efficiency improvements and purchase a pellet stove through their Warm Up Tompkins program.

  3. Heat pumps. These include air-source and ground-source heat pumps, also known as geothermal. Heat pumps, like air conditioners or refrigerators, use electricity to move heat from a cool space to a warm space, making the cool space cooler and the warm space warmer.

Air source heat pumps take heat from the outside air (even when it is cold outside). NYSERDA currently offers a $500 incentive per outdoor unit to participating installers (who may pass it on to customers). All three installers listed below participate in the program.

Ground-source heat pumps, also known as geothermal, remove heat from underground, and are more efficient than air source heat pumps. NYSERDA currently offers a rebate of $1,500 per ton for geothermal technologies.

Heat pumps can be carbon neutral if paired with solar panels, or if you purchase green energy through your energy supplier. Read more about heat pumps here.

Make sure you weatherize your home before deciding on a new heating system. This will help you reduce your heat load, and help you determine the appropriate equipment to keep your home warm all winter long.


In addition to the incentives described above, there is a Federal Tax Credit for up to $300, which can be used for any of the heating systems described above.

Local banks may be able to finance equipment. Sometimes your monthly payment can be less than your monthly energy savings. Here are some local financing options.


The local contractors provided below—all of whom have agreed to a set of good practice standards--can answer your questions and provide quotes for installation.




Here are some considerations to help you decide.

*Does not include various rebates and incentives available (e.g. $1,500-2,500 for pellet stoves, 30% federal tax credit for Ground-Source heat pumps) **For home with average levels of weatherization. If you insulate and seal your home well, your costs can be significantly lower


Wood & Pellet Stoves

  • Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County has a number of resources related to heating with wood. Contact Guillermo Metz, Energy Team Leader, at, or (607) 272-2292, ext 185.

  • BurnWise, an site, has a good FAQ section on wood and pellet stoves.

  • Alliance for Green Heat is another good source on heating with wood and pellets.

Heat Pumps

  • The Heat Smart Tompkins site has lots of resources on heat pumps.

  • has good resources on geothermal heating.

  • Are heat pumps cost-effective in Tompkins County? This 2017 study [pdf] from Taitem Engineering indicates that heat pump technology can be cheaper than propane or even natural gas!


HEAP (Home Energy Assistance Program)

  • HEAP is a free NYS program that helps low-income residents pay for heating costs through a series of benefits. The amount of the benefit depends on the heating fuel used, whether heating costs are included in rent, and other household characteristics.

  • In addition to the "regular" and "emergency" benefits, HEAP can also help tune, clean, repair and replace heating equipment, as well as provide an AC unit--all at no cost to the resident.

  • In Tompkins County, residents must apply through the Department of Social Services, 607 274-5264; residents over 60 may apply through the Office for the Aging, (607) 274-5482.