We have launched a two-year heat pump pilot after winning a grant from NYSERDA. Our goal is to convert 100 low-to-moderate (LMI) income rental units with existing gas heating to heat pumps in Tompkins County.



  • Rentals must be in 1-4 unit buildings
  • Limit of 5 units per landlord
  • Envelope must be brought up to standard
  • Rent must stay the same for two years
  • Agree to release utility data and share experience




  • Substantial extra incentives for heat pumps and electric panel upgrades
  • Improved value and climate resilience for rental units
  • Tenant satisfaction with greater comfort and healthier indoor air
  • Early compliance with future energy standards for existing buildings
  • Acknowledged partner in reaching state and local climate goals



  • Household income must be less than 80% of median income
  • Must attend online workshop on home energy best practices
  • Agree to completing survey on comfort issues before and after heat pump
  • Agree to release utility data and share experience



  • Protection from rent increases for two years
  • Greater comfort in all four seasons
  • Improved indoor air quality
  • Increased knowledge on how to reduce energy bills
  • Acknowledged partner in reaching state and local climate goals

Help our community transition to clean energy!

Sustainable Finger Lakes was awarded a substantial grant to subsidize the installation of high-efficiency heat pumps in 100 lower-income rental units in Tompkins County. The grant came from the Innovative Market Strategies program at NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority), which supports promising approaches to building decarbonization with solutions for disadvantaged communities.

The heat pump pilot study was designed to address the stubborn “split incentive” barrier to making energy efficiency improvements in rental properties. When homeowners invest in efficiency measures, they are the direct beneficiaries, and energy savings can help cover the cost of the improvements. When tenants pay the energy bills and landlords pay for the improvements, there is less motivation to invest in efficiency.

“Of course, with climate change snapping at our heels, society has to move beyond zero sum thinking and find equitable solutions that work for everyone,” said Gay Nicholson, President of Sustainable Finger Lakes (SFLX). Dr. Nicholson has worked for three decades on climate change and has focused on making sure low-to-moderate income (LMI) households are not left behind in the transition to clean energy. In 2010, she launched the Finger Lakes Climate Fund, a local carbon offset program which provides a platform for taking responsibility for travel and building carbon emissions by dispensing offset dollars in grants to LMI families to pay for insulation, air sealing, and replacing fossil fuel systems with heat pumps. To date, the Climate Fund has made 94 grants worth over $155,000 to LMI families in 13 counties, keeping over 8,500 tons CO2 out of our atmosphere. Previously, NYSERDA awarded SFLX a 2-year $250,000 grant to subsidize heat pump installations in LMI homes in Tompkins and Chemung Counties.

This grant provided $585,000 in extra incentives for heat pumps, electric panel upgrades, and heat pump water heaters in Tompkins rentals occupied by tenants earning less than 80% of median income for their household size. The project focused on rentals in buildings with 1-4 units that are heating with fossil gas. This category of LMI tenants in 1-4 unit buildings represents 24% of all LMI housing units in NYS – yet this sector has received very little of the NYSERDA clean energy incentives due to the problem of the split incentive. The SFLX team took a flexible whole systems approach working directly with both landlords and tenants and their installers.

“We’ll be helping tenants be a full partner in the Ithaca Green New Deal by providing energy education and best practices for heating and cooling with heat pumps, along with a dozen free LED light bulbs” said Kristinko Mato, the previous SFLX Tenant Engagement Coordinator. Tenants will be protected from rent increases for two years and enjoy much improved indoor air quality, summer air conditioning, and cozier winter heating. Participating landlords also received a substantial stack of incentives to help with the switch to heat pumps – and will be ahead of the curve before eventual legislation requires the transition from fossil fuels in rentals.

As a pilot study for the state, close attention was paid to the energy savings from installing heat pumps. Sustainable Finger Lakes partnered with Performance Systems Development (PSD), an Ithaca-based small business that translates building science expertise into innovative efficiency programs, engineering services, training, and powerful software tools. PSD supported the project with energy modeling and heat pump performance tracking software developed with support from the US Department of Energy and NYSERDA. PSD’s Compass software increased the building owner’s confidence in savings, as well as optimized contractors’ decarbonization investment.

The program is no longer accepting applicants. It is currently in the process of evaluating existing proposals and installing heat pumps. Lower-income tenants can email Ni****@su********************.org and Tompkins landlords with LMI tenants in 1-4 unit buildings can email Ga*@su********************.org with any further questions.