Jim Schulman and Letty Shapiro chat with Josh Wharton, a regional sales manager for Mitsubishi Electric, about heat pumps. Shuran Huang for The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — A loose line of people snaked from a doorway in the side of a cargo truck. One young boy wandered over to examine several bales of hay stacked nearby while others craned their necks to get a peek inside. A small sign in the shape of a barn stuck over the open door read, “Petting Zoo.”

But the queuing visitors weren’t there to meet pigs, goats, or sheep. What they wanted was hands-on experience with a different kind of beast: heat pumps.

“We have heat pump everything,” said Vanessa Bertelli, head of the nonprofit Electrify DC, as she walked through the D.C. Armory, an indoor arena, on a recent Saturday.

To her right, is a showcase of two brands of heat pump water heaters. In another exhibit, a heat pump dryer. Inside the “petting zoo,” a converted truck designed to look like the interior of a home, heat pumps protruded from the walls.

At this fair, instead of pony rides, games of chance and fried food, visitors took electric bicycles and scooters for a spin, watched cooking demonstrations on induction stoves, and learned about other ways to make their homes and lives more climate-friendly.

The event– which brought together nonprofits, local government entities, industry groups, manufacturers and contractors – is the latest example of how some cities and electrification groups are hoping to push homeowners and renters toward adopting greener technology. To help fairgoers more easily find what they were looking for, the event was set up like a house: induction stoves in the kitchen area, solar panels and EV charging information in the garage, and a laundry space for heat pump dryers.


The U.S. residential sector accounts for about 20% of the country’s carbon emissions, according to estimates from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Much of that is generated by air conditioning, space heating and water heating.

While low-carbon and energy-efficient appliances are making inroads in some homes, a vast majority of Americans still cook as well as cool and heat their homes with technology that guzzles energy or uses natural gas instead of electricity. For example, just about 3% of Americans reported owning an induction stove in 2022.

“A lot of people want to do the right thing. They just don’t know how,” Bertelli said. “There’s a real need and opportunity to inform the public about what these machines really do and why they’re better than others, how much they cost, where you can find them and what [are the] applications.

“We really figured out that we needed a massive show-and-tell for adults.”


At the heat pump “petting zoo,” Josh Wharton could hardly catch a break.


The Healthy Homes Fair in D.C. Shuran Huang for The Washington Post

Wharton, a regional sales manager for Mitsubishi Electric, the company behind the exhibit, estimated that a couple of hundred people had already stopped by.

“It’s exciting that you have all of these options” for heat pumps, he said. “But for a homeowner, it can be a little bit overwhelming.”

Throughout the afternoon, Wharton answered questions and helped visitors learn more about what type of heat pump might best suit their needs. Then he sent people to nearby booths with contractors who could explain more about what it would take to install the technology.

While examining the heat pumps on display, D.C. residents Jim Schulman and Letty Shapiro peppered Wharton with technical questions about the ultra-low-carbon heating and cooling appliances. Could a model that went into the ceiling fit between joists? How close would another model need to be to an exterior wall?

“It’s been a busy day,” Wharton said, leaning against a stool during a rare lull. Around him, the appliances quietly pumped cool air into the space.



Standing in an open space between two rows of booths, Sherron and Patrick Dunmore’s gazes drifted from booth to booth as they took in the sights and sounds.

The couple is in the midst of revamping their D.C. rowhouse and came to the fair eager to learn more about the latest home technology. Among their projects: getting a new water heating system and redoing their kitchen.

“Having everything under one roof, I definitely like that,” Sherron Dunmore said.

In the kitchen section, the couple watched as a woman sauteed tomatoes and onions in a pan on an induction stove. Around her, a small crowd assembled to ask questions about the energy-efficient appliance.

“I want the stove,” Patrick Dunmore said shortly after the demonstration ended. Their kitchen is currently equipped with a standard electric range.

Visitors to the heat pump “petting zoo” could get their questions about the technology answered by experts. Shuran Huang for The Washington Post

“This is much better than the store because you actually get to talk to somebody who represents this particular product, so they have all the knowledge,” he added. “A lot of stores, they just know the basics.”


The Dunmores said they would be leaving the fair armed with information to make decisions on some of their home improvement projects.

“Hopefully, we can go get these products,” Patrick Dunmore said.


Anshu Deewan and Bijal Patel made the trip from Rockville, Md., to D.C. for the fair – drawn to the event despite being renters, a demographic typically limited in the green upgrades they can do to their homes.

Several exhibits had information for those who don’t own their home, including booths with details about community solar projects and how to use induction stovetops in a rented space.

“It usually feels like whenever we go to similar events, they’re more focused toward homeowners,” Deewan, 33, said.

Like many other attendees, the couple also made a beeline for one of the fair’s main attractions, which had nothing to do with home improvement: an “E-Bike Tasting Party.” There they had the chance to test different e-bike models, doing laps across the Armory’s polished hardwood floors.

“This definitely made it a lot more convenient because otherwise, I was doing a lot of internet reading, finding out bike shops, but here everything was in the same place,” Deewan said. “I had 20 e-bikes to look at and compare.”

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