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Asthma Rates Are Out Of Control. Are Outdated Heating Systems To Blame?


While Asthma Alley may sound like a term for a dusty 18th-century corridor from a classic British novel, it is actually the nickname for a place that more than 50,000 New Yorkers call home. The Bronx neighborhood of Mott Haven has some of the worst air pollution levels in the U.S., and its residents are hospitalized for asthma-related illnesses at five times the national rate. 

Along with cars, buses and other outdoor pollutants, poor indoor air quality is a major contributor to respiratory illnesses in the Bronx. 

“Nearly one out of every five children in the Bronx has asthma,” said Keith Kinch, co-founder and general manager of BlocPower, a Brooklyn-based energy technology startup. “We believe that installing modern air source heat pumps in the borough’s multifamily buildings could go a long way toward reducing that number.” 

BlocPower has teamed up with Con Edison to help Bronx building owners replace their oil heating systems with energy-efficient heat pumps that can help improve indoor air quality. Through this partnership, BlocPower installs heat pumps in Bronx buildings for no upfront cost. Instead, owners make fixed monthly payments to BlocPower over time. 

Bisnow spoke with Kinch to learn more about the benefits of heat pumps and why he believes they are a smart choice for multifamily buildings in the Bronx and beyond.

Bisnow: How do heat pumps work? 

Kinch: Most people are likely familiar with heat pumps already. Refrigerators are heat pumps. Air conditioning units are heat pumps. They are a tried-and-true technology that uses electricity and refrigerant to move heat from one place to another. BlocPower offers a different technology — cold-climate air source heat pumps. These systems can heat and cool buildings year-round in a more energy-efficient way than traditional systems. 

In the winter, pumps will move heat from outside your building to inside the building and are two to three times more efficient than any boiler-based heating system. In the summer, they will pump heat out of a building and are 25% to 50% more efficient than conventional window units. 

Bisnow: How can these systems help communities like the Bronx?

Kinch: For one, savings. Many Bronx building owners spend thousands of dollars on wasteful heating systems, and they lack the upfront capital to install energy-efficient alternatives. Heat pumps are efficient and low maintenance. They include smart monitoring systems to ensure they are operating efficiently all day, every day. 

Secondly, health. The Bronx is well known for having one of the highest asthma rates of any area in the nation. This is due in part to pollution and housing conditions. Heat pumps are healthier than the boiler-based systems that are in many Bronx homes because they include filters that allow them to deliver purified indoor air into buildings. They are also a form of non-combustion heating; they run on electricity and avoid carbon emissions, unlike an oil heating system. This can mean cleaner air and lower asthma rates for the entire community.

Bisnow: Aside from the potential health benefits, are there other ways heat pumps impact building residents? 

Kinch: Heat pumps can help improve tenant satisfaction. They act as an all-in-one heating and cooling system in each tenant's unit, allowing them to control the temperature and set it for their specific comfort level year-round. Also, their airflow is steady and quiet as a whisper, while oil heating can be very loud and come out in bursts. 

Bisnow: How can underserved communities afford to make the switch to heat pumps? 

Kinch: Through our partnership with Con Edison, BlocPower has made it possible for building owners to install these systems for no money down and start saving right away. 

BlocPower finances and maintains these systems, allowing owners to make a predictable, low monthly payment to the company that is typically lower than their current oil heating and maintenance bills. These lower operating costs translate to a higher net operating income. Buildings that become more energy-efficient can see an increase in value of 44%

We believe these systems can make a real difference. This is why BlocPower is gathering hundreds of millions of dollars from private financial partners to finance heat pump installations in the Bronx and throughout the country. 

This feature was produced in collaboration between Bisnow Branded Content and BlocPower. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.