An Electrification Story: From the Beginning
This is perhaps a bit overdue in the telling, but I’ve been getting support to share, so it’s time to catch up on my journey to live the future, by electrifying my home, decarbonizing my electricity, and building energy resilience. This post includes insights on how to begin the journey, resources available, some quick wins without spending much, and how to approach the larger projects (and what incentives are available). Please provide your feedback or comments!
My journey of electrification began when we moved into a new house just before the pandemic lockdowns. I started by gathering data on the state of my appliances (eg how old and how efficient), how much electricity was used, and what my bills look like. It took a few months to have an idea what was going on, but clearly there was room for improvement.
Always Start With Energy Efficiency
Actually, the first thing I did was replace all the light bulbs. That literally eliminated 2kw of consumption from the house. So yeah…start with efficiency. The cool thing is, if you have incandescent bulbs and are moving to LEDs, you also have a great opportunity to move to “smart home” features, like automation of turning lights on/of and controlling the lights from an app on your phone.
Appliances: Natural Gas Everywhere!
Almost all the large appliances in the house are powered by natural gas — the furnace, the hot water heater, the dryer, the stove and oven — all ran on gas. While those are large projects, I had an idea to provide an alternative with an easy fix. So the next thing I did was get an upgraded electric toaster oven with a lot of uses, from air fry to dehydration. A versatile tool like this would ensure that we could use more electrical power when cooking in the kitchen. Sure enough, it became one of our most used circuits very quickly!
Next was to look at the possible possibilities for electrification. I had some experience with a heat pump heater and air conditioner (aka ductless minisplit) from some remodeling work I did on a house previously, so I started to investigate. I had never done a whole home one and especially retrofitting a house that had existing ductwork, so lots to learn there. I was brand new to electric heat pumps for hot water and dryers, though it is the same basic concept as the minisplit. I had only limited exposure to induction stove tops, which are the latest and greatest chef innovation for cooking and well suited for a post-fossil fuel world. So in short…I had lots to learn!
Getting Good Local Support (BayREN)
I found a great resource which I highly recommend to anyone in the Bay Area called BayREN. This nonprofit organization offers free consultants you can call up and talk to about what you’re trying to achieve. They also maintain a comprehensive guide to rebates available for electrification locally, and a list of contractors familiar with those rebates. They are available to support anyone from renters to homeowners, businesses to landlords. I really can’t recommend them enough and wish that more people knew about this resource in the (9 county) Bay Area. There are organizations like this in other parts of California as well!
BayREN consultants helped me find an expert in electric HVAC. My case was particularly complicated and it took several calls and people, as well as some additional sleuthing to have any idea what the possibilities were. To make a long story short…not great. But many other possibilities did exist!
Another thing BayREN offers is free energy audits. Local contractors will come and evaluate all the systems and state of your house and give you a quite comprehensive report with recommendations.
It’s free to Bay Area residents as the contractors are paid via a rebate through Bay read. Highly recommend it and also pretty cool to watch someone come out with thermal cameras and spot the various areas of the ceiling or wall which have no insulation.
Moving Electrification Forward
While the HVAC system proved to be quite a complicated and expensive electrification project, the hot water heater was promising and became the first priority. You will be able to read more about that in my subsequent post diving into that experience.
Also when we moved in, we did not have a car the pandemic really pushed that situation beyond something that was sustainable. But I definitely wanted to go electric, even with the complications due to the nature of our house. All in all, just the vehicle, the hot water heater, and the toaster would add significant electrical usage. I suppose I could have estimated what this would be. But I didn’t. Suppose that will be fodder for a subsequent post, as this is already very long.
WTF Have I Learned So Far?
So far some of my observations about electrification are that first, there are not nearly enough contractors familiar with these technologies. In San Francisco, there are only a number of contractors I can count on one hand in the BayREN program! Others in the area don’t want to travel to the city or deal with the city’s permitting process. Which leads to my next lesson…
Second while this is vital to do, it is complex and currently takes extra effort by homeowners to get it right. Currently, you need to be a champion for doing what is right and asking for the best “live the future” solution. That might mean you have to push your contractor, wait a little while extra to get the parts, or even find another contractor. But have faith…you are paving the way for way more people if you can do this.
Third, these are all proven technologies. I’ve seen heat pumps on 3 other continents more than here. Why are they not more readily available and common? Why are we so far behind in educating our inspectors, installers, regulators, and legislators on the future?
Clearly there is much work to be done. Hopefully you will join me on this journey. I welcome your comments, feedback, and suggestions!