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Historic Net-Zero Air B&B Features Air-to-Water Heat Pump

Built in 1791, the farmhouse is now one of the few fossil fuel-free Airbnb properties in Vermont

Dan Vastyan

Johnathan Matthew and Tracy Roux are proud to join the ranks of energy-efficient, fossil-fuel free Airbnb owners in the state of Vermont.

Their farmhouse, set on 50 acres near Plainfield, VT, was built in 1791 and added to extensively in 1827. Matthew purchased the property in 1997.

We installed a large solar array on a barn roof in 2015,” said Matthew. “The property is now an operating Airbnb. We’re closed at the moment due to COVID-19, but we’ll open again as soon as possible.”

Solar PV was installed on the barn roof in 2015.

The 2,100 square-foot farmhouse has experienced many efficiency upgrades since 1997. The final component of the renovation was an HVAC system upgrade from its existing oil-fired furnace.

Matthew owns a spray foam insulation company, All Seasons Urethane Foam, and has worked extensively with Lloyd Plumbing, Heating and Gas Services, LLC, in the past. He and Jonathan Lloyd, comfort advisor and project manager for Lloyd, held several meetings to discuss the best options for the historical home.

The primary objective was to remain as environmentally-friendly as possible and tap renewable energy. Reaching that goal took some deliberation, and they weren’t sure to what degree they could minimize the home’s carbon footprint.

The existing 13.8kW solar array was a great start,” said Lloyd. “Matthew and I discussed the use of a pellet boiler, but this didn’t address the need for air conditioning. He also considered the use of ductless heat pumps, but he and Roux preferred a radiant heat system for premium comfort. We hadn’t reached a conclusion by the time I was contacted by Efficiency Vermont, who had been working with a manufacturer to bring a new, state-of-the-art, all-electric heating and cooling technology to Vermonters.”

Beta test air-to-water heat pump

The professionals at Lloyd P&H are well known by managers at Efficiency Vermont. In 2019, the company was presented with Efficiency Vermont’s Partner of the Year award.

Taco’s pre-release System M air-to-water heat pump is installed at the farmhouse, supplying hot water to both the home’s large indirect water heater and its main hydronic panel

Lloyd explained to Matthew that Mark Chafee, VP of governmental relations and sustainability at Taco Comfort Solutions, had approached Efficiency Vermont for assistance in identifying a beta test site for Taco’s soon to be released air-to-water heat pump system. Taco Comfort Solutions, based in Cranston, RI, is an American manufacturer of hydronic HVAC components and is known industry-wide for its forward thinking and development of class leading, high-efficiency products.

Taco’s new System M heat pump, to be released soon, is a turnkey air-to-water heat pump that provides heating, cooling and domestic hot water with zero fossil fuel emissions. Much like a conventional unitary heat pump or a ductless mini-split, the system includes an indoor and an outdoor unit. But the similarities end there.

The outdoor unit of Taco’s System M is a stylish, quiet condensing unit powered by a radically efficient variable speed inverter and fan combination. The indoor unit houses a complete package of pumps, controls, and piping accessories ready to send chilled or hot water to all types of HVAC heating and cooling distribution systems. This can include hydronic coils for use in ductwork, convectors, radiators, unit heaters and radiant tubing, giving contractors, architects and homeowners nearly limitless options for premium comfort, architectural flexibility and energy efficiency.

This system is truly an appliance, not an amalgamation of heat pump parts sold by different manufacturers, which has been the only option for an air-to-water pump in the U.S. until now,” said Lloyd. “Taco has packaged the indoor and outdoor portions of this system in one cohesive, interconnected appliance. As a factory package, this cuts installation time in half.”

Our air-to-water heat pump incentive program began in 2019,” said Brian Sweeny, supply chain account manager at Efficiency Vermont. “The biggest hurdle is lack of contractor familiarity with the systems. That results in higher prices for the systems, putting them out of reach for many Vermonters. Whatever can be done to reduce complexity should help bring down the cost.”

The model that Taco is releasing in the near future will feature a sleek, Euro-looking exterior. Otherwise, the beta test unit at the farmhouse is nearly identical to the final system. Like many modern appliances, the system can be controlled through a mobile app.

This is the Tesla of the residential HVAC world,” said Chaffee. “In that respect, it’s similar to a geothermal system, though without the expense and disturbance of drilling or trenching a ground loop. It will appeal to homeowners who’re interested in minimizing their environmental impact and eliminating fossil fuel consumption. It will also be of interest to consumers who understand the comfort advantages of a water-based hydronic heating and cooling system.”

Several roads to comfort

A technician from Lloyd Plumbing & Heating selects a pumping mode from several available on the Taco 0018e circulator.

In addition to providing domestic hot water, the beauty of the new Taco heat pump system is the ability to provide chilled and hot water to different radiation components. Matthew was adamant about providing in-floor radiant heat for the guests at the Airbnb, and took it upon himself to install radiant tubing below the floor on the ground level of the house.

Before the retrofit, the upstairs of the house had been extremely uncomfortable during the summer. In each of the bedrooms, Lloyd Plumbing & Heating installed fan coil units for heating and air conditioning. According to Matthew and Roux, the home is now far more comfortable in the summer.

Not counting the domestic hot water load, the home needs 60,000 BTUs of heating capacity,” said Lloyd. “The heat pump is rated for 48,000 BTUs. In addition to replacing the old oil boiler, the new heat pump has also replaced the existing propane water heater. Even when the house is full of guests, there has always been ample hot water for showers.”

Renewable backup heat

Before deciding to install the heat pump, Matthew and Roux had considered the use of a wood pellet boiler. They liked the concept of using a renewable solid fuel so much that they decided to install one as a source of backup heat, though not necessary in most residential applications.

The Taco System M outdoor unit is sleek and weatherproof

Using a backup pellet boiler allows us to remain 100% renewable,” said Matthew. Working with Andy Boutin of Pellergy LLC, Lloyd Plumbing and Heating suggested a Pellergy Alpha A60.

Matthew’s boiler has a 52,000 BTU/h output and runs at 86% sustained efficiency,” said Boutin, general manager at Pellergy. “He can purchase locally-sourced bulk pellets that are delivered directly to his bin.”

Comfort and rebates

The heat pump and pellet boiler combined with radiant floors and fan coils made for an unbeatable combination for achieving the homeowner’s net-zero energy goal,” said Lloyd. “We haven’t received a single complaint. Comfort levels inside have been vastly improved.”

Matthew received a $6,000 rebate for installation of the pellet boiler, $3,000 from Efficiency Vermont and $3,000 from the Vermont Clean Energy Development Fund. Installation of the air-to-water heat pump would have qualified for an additional $4,000, had it not been a beta test unit.

This is new technology,” continued Lloyd. “It creates an opportunity for homeowners to increase their sustainability in a cool climate. As a fully-contained package, it’s ideal for converting from a fossil fuel furnace. I think it could help us break into the air-to-water heat pump market. That’s something we’ve been looking forward to.”

Learn more about Taco Comfort Solutions at tacocomfort.com.

Dan Vastyan is PR director and writer for Common Ground, a trade communications firm based in Manheim, PA.

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