How HVAC students train for the future.

By | March 5, 2024

FALL RIVER — About a dozen students were busy bending copper pipes, working together as they measured the pipes and mounted them on the wall. Everyone contributed in their own small way to a cleaner climate.

Students at Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School’s Heating, Cooling, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration shop learned how to install heat pumps, climate control devices with astonishing efficiency that promise a better way to heat and cool homes in Greater Fall River .

The school received 10 different models of heat pumps to practice on, courtesy of a grant from Liberty Utilities and National Grid. Each unit, said Superintendent Brian Bentley, costs about $7,000 to $8,000.

Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School student Owen Nadeau works on installing a heat pump in the school's HVAC shop on Thursday, Feb. 29.

Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School student Owen Nadeau works on installing a heat pump in the school’s HVAC shop on Thursday, Feb. 29.

“They completely financed this entire project for us here. The students get great training in it,” Bentley said. “Without their funding, we would have had to find the funding within our budget to do this.

“What you have here is a fair amount of money.”

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How does a heat pump work?

Homes in Greater Fall River and throughout New England are typically heated with oil or natural gas; fuels whose supply is expensive and limited and is an important factor in climate change.

Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School students work to install heat pumps in the HVAC shop on Thursday, Feb. 29.Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School students work to install heat pumps in the HVAC shop on Thursday, Feb. 29.

Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School students work to install heat pumps in the HVAC shop on Thursday, Feb. 29.

Heat pumps run on electricity – and instead of generating heat, they bring it in from the outside, making them much more efficient than furnaces.

“For us, we think 30 degrees outside is cold. The refrigerant contained in these systems is considered warm,” said William Harris, head of Diman’s HVACR department. “They can extract heat from the air in 30 degrees. They take the heat from outside and pump it inside.

“It’s like an air conditioning system running in reverse,” he added.

In the warm months they work the other way, pumping warm air into the house and out again, keeping the room cooler.

Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School students Kayden Cordeiro and Paul Hart work on installing a heat pump in the school's HVAC shop on Thursday, Feb. 29.Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School students Kayden Cordeiro and Paul Hart work on installing a heat pump in the school's HVAC shop on Thursday, Feb. 29.

Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School students Kayden Cordeiro and Paul Hart work on installing a heat pump in the school’s HVAC shop on Thursday, Feb. 29.

It seems counterintuitive on cold days in New England, but even in extremely low temperatures, a heat pump can still extract heat from that cold air and keep a home nice and warm, he said.

“These are cold climates,” Harris said. “They work down to minus 15 – effective at minus 15, with 100% efficiency at minus 5.”

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How to get a heat pump and what discounts are available

Through the MassSave program, Liberty Utilities and National Grid are offering homeowners incentives to install heat pumps that replace or supplement their old fossil fuel-based heating systems.

Customers can get up to $16,000 in rebates and federal tax credits to install an air source or air-to-water heat pump; they extract heat from the outside air to heat the house. MassSave is offering up to $25,000 to install a ground source heat pump, which draws its heat from underground.

MassSave: Learn more about rebates and incentives for heat pumps

Wyatt L’Etoile, an HVACR instructor at Diman, said the first step is to have MassSave rate your home for energy efficiency.

Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School students Connor Kennedy and Paul Hart bend a piece of copper pipe in the HVAC shop as instructor Wyatt L'Etoile watches them on Thursday, Feb. 29.Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School students Connor Kennedy and Paul Hart bend a piece of copper pipe in the HVAC shop as instructor Wyatt L'Etoile watches them on Thursday, Feb. 29.

Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School students Connor Kennedy and Paul Hart bend a piece of copper pipe in the HVAC shop as instructor Wyatt L’Etoile watches them on Thursday, Feb. 29.

“They will usually suggest these types of units to supplement or replace your heating system because of the great efficiency they have,” he said. Once those discounts are factored in, he says, “they usually almost pay for themselves.” It’s really great.”

“Heat pumps are an important technology that will require greater customer adoption if Massachusetts is to meet its greenhouse gas targets,” said Stephanie Terach, energy efficiency and customer solutions manager at Liberty. “We are proud that Duman students will have the opportunity to receive training on this technology and contribute to the clean energy population.”

Diman HVACR students are in a growing field

Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School student Kaylin Sousa installs a piece of copper tubing while working on a heat pump in the HVAC shop on Thursday, Feb. 29.Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School student Kaylin Sousa installs a section of copper tubing while working on a heat pump in the HVAC shop on Thursday, Feb. 29.

Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School student Kaylin Sousa installs a section of copper tubing while working on a heat pump in the HVAC shop on Thursday, Feb. 29.

Bentley said not long ago that Diman’s HVACR department was a small shop. In recent years it has grown significantly, to the point where the shop has had to turn away children interested in learning the HVACR trade.

That may be at least partly because jobs in the field are well-paid and stable, with emerging technologies like these to keep these kids steadily employed when they graduate and well beyond.

The heat pump grant allowed the school to purchase ten different models so that students could learn different installation and repair methods. During a lesson, students installed the wall units – where the heat enters the room – and connected them to the condenser units.

Instructor Gabriel Teixeira said the practice they get with these units makes a huge difference in their training.

“These things are meant to be installed once. They install them four or six times a year,” Teixeira said.

Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School Superintendent Brian Bentley speaks with student Natalie Raposa at the HVAC shop on Thursday, February 29.Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School Superintendent Brian Bentley speaks with student Natalie Raposa at the HVAC shop on Thursday, February 29.

Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School Superintendent Brian Bentley speaks with student Natalie Raposa at the HVAC shop on Thursday, February 29.

He added that training not only gives students mechanical knowledge but also self-confidence.

“It really has an impact for the students if they get nice equipment to work with. They are so proud when they are done. They ask if they can take out their phone and take pictures.”

Terach, herself a Diman alumna who helped secure the grant money for the pumps, said she was thrilled that Liberty could play a role in their education.

“The best we can do is prepare students by investing in the tools and technologies they need to join the clean energy workforce,” she said. “We are proud to support these students in their search for clean energy jobs.”

Dan Medeiros can be reached at dmedeiros@heraldnews.com. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Herald News today.

This article originally appeared in The Herald News: Diman HVAC students get heat pumps; incentives available for homeowners

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