Pat Perry owns Vermont Heat Pump, LLC, in Shelburne, Vermont, and installs Fujitsu units exclusively.
What is your background?
PP: I worked as an electrical engineer at IBM for 30 years, and retired in 2012.
How did you get into the heat pump business?
PP: I wanted to get off fossil fuels at home, and learned about air source heat pumps from my brother, who had a friend in Maine who was in the business. They came and installed it, and it was great! I went from using 550 gallons of oil a year to using 100 gallons. No one seemed to have heard of them here in Vermont. So six months after I retired, I started the business. I’ve been doing it now for about four years.
In a nutshell, how would you define a heat pump?
PP: Conceptually, a heat pump is an AC that moves heat in either direction. You switch from heating to cooling via remote control. When you hear the term mini-split, it refers to the fact there is one indoor and one outdoor unit.
As a business owner, how much promotion do you need to do?
PP: Not much. Mostly, clients find me through word of mouth.
How has the technology changed?
PP: Five or six years ago, before I got into it, heat pumps were good only to about 30 degrees outdoor temperature. They were fine down South, but not practical for the Northeast. Around 2010 the industry moved away from Freon and transitioned to a non-ozone-depleting refrigerant called R410a. R410a has a much lower boiling point, and this allowed heat pumps to operate efficiently at temperatures well below zero.
How has Efficiency Vermont helped your business?
PP: Efficiency Vermont is great. Being listed on the EEN contractor network, the trainings and continuing education, and the outreach are all helpful. It’s terrific when Jake Marin of Efficiency Vermont talks up heat pumps. I appreciate any promotion of the technology.
What is a typical day like for you?
PP: Typically I’m doing either a site visit or an install. On a site visit, I meet with the customer and look over the space to see where the units will work best. There are some restrictions on where you can put the units, both inside and outside. On an install, I am usually there five to six hours. Installs are weather-dependent, because most of the time is spent outside.
Do you work with other contractors?
PP: I need to coordinate with the electrician to connect the system to the breaker panel. They don’t need to be there at the same time, but it’s ideal if they are.
Have you worked only with residential customers?
PP: Mainly, but I’ve done a few commercial jobs also. For example, I put in several units for Snow Farm Vineyard in South Hero.
What’s your impression of the awareness of heat pumps in Vermont?
PP: There’s a greater awareness among Maine residents. In Vermont, it hasn’t yet taken off the same way. But it’s changing. The people who have them love them, when they see how much money they save. So every install I do can lead to five others, when homeowners [talk them up].
What has the growth of your business been like?
PP: In my first year, I installed seven systems. The next year, it was 23, then 43. This year it will probably be 70. In 2017, I am aiming for 100 to 150. I may need to hire someone and teach that person the trade. I don’t want an empire. Anyway, I’m supposed to be retired.