I have written many times about Arvada’s Geos Community, where all 25 units, like this detached single-family home at 15062 W. 59th Place, were built as all-electric homes, solar powered, designed to passive solar standards, using the latest heat pump technology, and super-insulated with CERVs to maximize indoor air quality. The garages are wired for charging EVs. Built in 2017, the idea was to be a model for the kind of construction needed to reduce the carbon footprints of residential housing. I have done my part to publicize and promote it, but I have yet to see a metro Denver developer adopt this proven style of home construction. Indeed, the developer who purchased the adjoining land to build 130 “Geos Community” homes is not following the all-electric, geothermal, heat pump example of these original homes — and they’re selling those new homes at a higher price per square foot than these homes have sold for. Bottom-line, this home — just listed for only $725,000 — is the only true all-electric Geos home you can buy, and it’s priced to sell! Energy costs over the past 12 months averaged $19.91/month, including charging the seller’s EV. I spell out all the sustainable features of this home in a video tour at www.JeffcoSolarHomes.com, and I’m holding it open this Saturday, April 29th, from 2 to 4pm.
Tag: All-Electric Homes
A Subdivision in Pueblo Sets the Standard for All-Electric Home Construction
One of my favorite newsletter subscriptions is to “Big Pivots,” written and edited by Allen Best. The focus is on sustainability, especially as it relates to real estate and home construction. This week’s newsletter featured an article which I am reprinting with permission because it would be hard to improve upon it.
By ALLEN BEST
It took Rod Stambaugh a couple of years before his vision of high-performance housing on the northeastern edge of Pueblo had anything to show. Now he and his two partners have begun getting results. In recent weeks they’ve sold three homes for an average price of $780,000.
“It’s been a long road, but it’s getting easier,” says Stambaugh.
The company, Pure Zero Construction, has 14 of the single-family houses under construction with work underway on the first of 51 townhomes.
None of the homes will have natural gas or propane. The company has rights to build as many as 500 additional homes in North Vista Highlands.
“We will compete all day on the merits and benefits of high-performance, all-electric homes as compared to stick-built housing that uses natural gas,” says Stambaugh. “We will win that battle every time.”
The townhomes will have 2,200 square feet and come in at around $600,000, he says. The company expects buyers to come from Denver and the northern Front Range.
Pueblo has a well-deserved reputation for lower real estate prices, but it does have pricier homes, too. Pure Zero is staking its reputation on both environmental performance, which translates into cost savings over time, and on health benefits.
Accumulating evidence points to harmful impacts of indoor air quality from natural gas combustion, whether for space and water heating or for cooking.
Gene Meyers, long-time “green” builder in the Denver metro area, has said that if for no other reason than health considerations, it’s time to get rid of natural gas in homes.
Having no natural gas comports with Colorado’s goals for greenhouse gas reduction goals. Several laws passed in 2021 provide direction for the decarbonizing of buildings through various new metrics, including building codes that make natural gas less desirable. So far, however, Colorado has not imposed bans on natural gas. The lone exception is Crested Butte, and the restriction there applies to relatively few units.
Stambaugh got into the building technologies world about eight years ago when he began building 189-sq.-ft. “tiny” homes after returning to Colorado from California. That business is called Sprout Tiny Homes. He sold some of the tiny homes to the Aspen Skiing Co. for use in Basalt. He is now at work on a third generation of workforce housing for Aspen.
Then, in 2020, he purchased land in Pueblo’s North Vista Highlands subdivision. He had thought that there would be no natural gas available in that subdivision. That turned out not to be true, but it’s true for the housing he and his two partners are building — and he has no plans to change.
“We will not deviate from our mission,” says Stambaugh. “We are going to build high-performance homes where you can see, feel and breathe the difference. That is our mission.”
One measure of a building’s performance is a metric called HERS, short for Home Energy Rating System. The lower the HERS score, the more energy efficient the home. Existing homes may have HERS ratings of 130. New homes built to code have HERS scores of 100 – al-though some production builders are shooting for lower scores. KB Home has said it plans to achieve HERS scores of 45 nationally by 2025.
How do Pure Zero’s homes rate? “We’re in the low 40s and we actually had a -9 score after adding solar,” says Stambaugh.
High-performance building has several components. One is building tightly to avoid loss of heat in the winter and cool air in the summer. Unlike houses built from 2x4s and 2x6s, the Pure Zero houses were built with structural insulated panels, or SIPs. They provide superior insulation and, says Stambaugh, provide corners that are always on the mark. They used to cost more than wood, but no longer.
Eliminating natural gas is another fundamental of the houses. Instead, electrically powered Mitsubishi air-source heat pumps extract the heat from outside air efficiently down to 0ºF (and with less efficiency below zero). They do the reverse during hot weather, eliminating the need for a separate air conditioning unit.
Stambaugh swears by Mitsubishi’s heat pumps. They cost $1,500 more than other air-source heat pumps, but their superior performance at lower temperatures will result in less need for backup heating. Those lower costs will recoup the original investment in five years.
[Golden Real Estate installed Mitsubishi heat pumps in its South Golden office and downtown storefront, and they work great.]
Instead of natural gas ranges, the houses in Pueblo have induction ranges. Bathrooms are tiled from top to bottom. Temperatures throughout the 3,900-square-foot houses (with fully finished basements) are consistent. They’re so structurally tight that they are quiet even within a construction zone.
There used to be a higher cost premium for the materials. That has somewhat gone away.
But building high-performance homes requires rethinking, including finding subcontractors willing to learn new techniques. Stambaugh says his team had difficulty at first finding craftsmen willing to learn how to install the new technology. Some refused. Now, as the housing construction industry has slowed, some of those workers have returned, looking for jobs.
You can subscribe to the Big Pivots newsletter (and find lots of other interesting articles) at www.BigPivots.com. You will learn a lot, as I have, from Allen’s articles.
KB Home Is Building All-Electric Homes – But Not in Colorado
I have expressed dismay in the past that builders of new homes in our area are not getting “with it” when it comes to incorporating the latest thinking and technology regarding energy efficiency.
Builders boast their Energy Star appliances and lower HERS scores, but they are still, for example, installing gas forced-air furnaces instead of heat pumps, gas water heaters instead of heat pump water heaters, and gas cooktops or ranges instead of induction cooktops.
The Geos Community in Arvada provided proof of concept for the all-electric solar-powered, net zero energy home, and homes in that small, privately developed neighborhood have been featured for several years on the annual tour of “green homes.” But no production builder here has picked up on that concept, and when another builder acquired the undeveloped parcels at Geos last year, the first thing they did was bring a natural gas pipeline into the community to serve their new homes, greatly upsetting the happy homeowners of the original net zero energy Geos homes, which purposely have no natural gas lines.
Above is one of KB Home’s all-electric homes in Menifee CA, a smaller city south of Riverside. Not only is every home in that subdivision “net zero energy ready,” but they are tied together in an electric “microgrid,” designed to power itself cooperatively should there be an outage in the larger electric grid.
In the garage you can see both an EV charger and a wall-mounted battery backup system. The small print on the sign reads: “This all-electric, solar-powered home is equipped with smart technologies and a backup battery, plus community microgrid connectivity designed to help maximize home energy efficiency and comfort.”
Meanwhile, here in Colorado, neither KB nor any other builder, to my knowledge, is even offering heat pump HVAC units or heat pump water heaters as upgrades.
What’s the Cost of Converting a Home from Natural Gas to All-Electric?
In recent columns, I have promoted the idea of eliminating natural gas and converting one’s home to all-electric, using heat pumps for heating & cooling and installing a heat pump water heater. I have also promoted induction cooktops as an alternative to gas or standard electric cooktops.
One reader asked me to provide information on the cost of making the conversion to all-electric, so I have done some research and can also speak from personal experience.
First, I asked Bill Lucas-Brown of Helio Home Inc., who installed the heat pump mini-split system at Golden Real Estate’s former office on South Golden Road as well as in our storefront in downtown Golden.
I asked Bill for a rough estimate of the cost of making a typical 2,000 sq. ft. home all-electric, and he responded with the following numbers and comments.
Note that rebates and tax incentives are available from the state, feds, utilities, and local municipalities that typically range from 15 to 30 percent off total cost. The following are costs without those rebates. Click here to view Helio Home’s web page about the rebates and tax credits available under the Inflation Reduction Act.
- Air source heat pump for heating and cooling your home, $22,000
- Heat pump water heater, $4,000
- Insulation and air sealing work to improve efficiency, $5,000
- Ventilation system for indoor air quality, $4,000
- 10kW solar system PV, $30,000
- Electric panel upgrade, if needed, $4,000
- Electric vehicle charger, $1,500
That said, Helio Home’s average job is around $50,000. With rebates, figure $35,000 to $43,000. You can get a proposal on the company’s website www.heliohome.io.
Sadly, there are few vendors who are experienced and competent in heat pumps for heating and cooling homes. Heat pump water heaters are less of a challenge, because they are sold by Lowe’s and Home Depot, and you just need a plumber to install them and an electrician to pull a 240-Volt circuit to it. I bought a 50-gallon heat pump water heater in 2021 for $1,200 (on sale – prices are higher now) and was able to do the electrical work myself because of a nearby 240V circuit that was no longer in use. The self-employed plumber I used charged just $500, and I got a $400 rebate from Xcel Energy, so the cost was less than the figure quoted above. The federal rebate taking effect in January under the IRA makes such a purchase almost free.
You may find it more practical to leave your gas forced air furnace in place and install a ductless mini-split system. A compressor (similar to an A/C compressor) is installed outside your home, and two coolant lines are run to wall-mounted units in different rooms of your house. This works best in a one-story home. These same wall units provide both heating and cooling, because that’s how heat pumps work — they are like an air conditioner that works in two directions, moving heat out of your home in the summer and into your home in the winter. As the name suggests, they don’t create heat, they move heat, and they do it more efficiently than baseboard electric heating or heating generated by burning natural gas (or propane).
Instead of wall-mounted mini-splits, you can install a ceiling-mounted “cassette” which functions the same way. That’s what Helio Home installed in our downtown storefront, and it works just as well. (Come by our office and I’ll show it to you.) I have also seen a wall-mounted cassette which has a picture frame on it. When the heat pump is operating, the picture moves out a couple inches from the wall to allow the movement of air.
As for an EV charger, the biggest variable is the cost of bringing a 240V circuit to your garage, which depends on the distance between the garage and your breaker panel. I spent less that $300 for that, again from a self-employed electrician.
Tesla vehicles have the charger built into the car, so you only need a 240V outlet (similar to the outlet for your clothes dryer) to plug the provided cord into. Don’t buy the Tesla Wall Connector — it’s totally unnecessary for home use. Just use the charging cord with a 240V head.
Other EVs may require you to purchase a Level 2 charging station, which I did when I had a Chevy Volt. By googling “Level 2 EV chargers,” I found prices as low as $200 (Home Depot, 16 amp model), and several under $500. So your real cost depends on what your electrician charges. Here’s an idea: If you have an electric dryer outlet available close to your garage, you could adapt that circuit for your EV at minimal cost.
Another use of natural gas that you’re probably using is for cooking and grilling. You’ll really love induction cooking if you try it, because it is so much faster. Buy a countertop unit for under $100 and play with it. For grilling, we love the George Foreman electric grill we purchased for $100.
Above all, pay attention to the tax credits and rebates that take effect on Jan. 1, 2023, under the Inflation Reduction Act. They make going all-electric more realistic.
Looked at Correctly, It Costs No More to Build (or Buy) a Sustainable Home
“Conventional wisdom” says that it costs more to build a solar powered, highly sustainable or net zero energy home, but that’s not really true if you look at the issue a little differently.
As you surely know, such improvements reduce the operating cost of a home. Solar panels, for example, can virtually eliminate your electrical bill, if your system is sized correctly. They can even provide free fuel for your cars — if they are powered by electricity.
Super insulating your home can reduce the cost of heating it, whether by natural gas or electricity (using a heat pump system). Ditto for installing triple-pane Alpen windows and doors.
If you go all-electric, you not only save on the natural gas or propane you consume, you can have your gas meter removed, saving on the base cost of being connected to the gas distribution network. As a commercial customer, Golden Real Estate, saves over $600 per year from having removed our gas meter, since that’s what Xcel Energy charges before a business uses a single cubic foot of natural gas. The savings is lower for residential customers.
So, yes, it may cost more to go all-electric, but the return on investment is substantial over a pretty short period of time.
But consider the following. Whether you build or buy a home with these cost saving features, and whether or not you pay a premium for them, you will likely be financing your home with a mortgage.
Let’s say, conservatively, that you pay an extra $50,000 or even $100,000 for those features, and it adds that amount to the principal of your mortgage. Your monthly savings from those solar panels or that heat pump system or those Alpen windows and extra insulation will be far in excess of the increased monthly payment for your mortgage.
And if you make those improvements in a home you already own, you can take out a Home Equity Line of Credit (or HELOC) to pay for them, and the monthly payments will again be less than your monthly savings.
Looked at it this way, does it make any sense at all to build a home powered by fossil fuels, that is not solar powered or that has “normal” insulation and have higher monthly cost of ownership, starting from day one? Of course not.
You can apply the same reasoning to the purchase of an electric car. You could go with the conventional wisdom that electric cars are more expensive and you should wait until the price comes down, but that thinking substantially misrepresents the cost of ownership.
I haven’t purchased gasoline for my electric cars since 2014, during which time I have saved tens of thousands of dollars on gasoline as well as on repairs on components that don’t exist on an EV, such as transmission, engine, fuel pumps, water pumps, timing belts and so much more.
And I have never had a catalytic converter stolen — or lost any sleep after reading about the epidemic of such thefts in my city.
Forgetting for the moment that there are indeed EVs which cost no more than their gasoline-powered equivalents, even if you paid $10,000 more for an EV than you might for a gas powered car, the cost of financing that difference is far less than what you’ll save on fuel and repairs.
If I have changed your thinking about making your home (or transportation) more sustainable, here’s what you can do. First, attend this year’s Metro Denver Green Homes Tour on October 1st. You’ll be able to visit a dozen or so homes whose owners have taken steps to make their homes more energy efficient or even net zero energy. You’ll also visit a home builder who is building net zero energy homes. If you can’t visit some of these homes in person, you can view the narrated video tours which I have created for most of them.
(You can also — right now — take video tours of 16 homes that were on this tour in previous years!)
You can register for the tour — and see those videos — at www. NewEnergyColorado.com.
And if I have changed your thinking about the cost of buying or owning an electric vehicle, plan on coming to the Electric Vehicle Roundup (mentioned below) which occurs the same day, October 1st, as the Metro Denver Green Homes Tour. If that date doesn’t work for you, there are many other EV roundups in October around Colorado. Find those other events online at www.DriveElectricWeek.org.
Crested Butte Bans Natural Gas in New Construction — A New Statewide Trend?
Given our commitment to addressing climate change, one of my favorite email newsletters is “Big Pivots,” written by Allen Best of Arvada, The mission of his non-profit is to document, understand and educate about the changes made necessary by climate change.
Among those changes is the transition from fossil-fuel heating of homes and water using natural gas and propane now that electric heat pump units are practical and affordable.
The latest Big Pivots email newsletter (which you can subscribe to at bigpivots.com) was about Crested Butte’s recent decision to outlaw natural gas in new construction. Rather than rewrite what Allen wrote, here is his article with some minor edits:
By ALLEN BEST
Crested Butte, a one-time coal mining town, has now turned its back on natural gas. Town councilors unanimously agreed that any new building erected on the 60 vacant lots cannot be served by gas. Major remodels must be electric-ready. It’s Colorado’s first natural gas ban, although 80 other jurisdictions around the country have taken similar measures.
“There was a lot of talk at council about it being a bold decision, but I don’t see it that way,” said Crested Butte Mayor Ian Billick. “Not only is it what we need to do, but we have all the tools to do it cost effectively.”
Billick arrived at Crested Butte several decades ago as a biologist at the nearby Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory. Many experiments there have focused on the effects of warming temperatures on existing plants. One experiment involving year-round heat lamps specifically foretells a shift from the showy wildflowers for which Crested Butte is famous to an ecosystem dominated by sagebrush.
Temperatures continue to creep higher, but at more than 8,900 feet in elevation, Crested Butte still has chilly winters. The overnight temperature during January averages 6 below.
The takeaway here is that if Crested Butte is comfortable with the replacement technologies for natural gas, most other places in Colorado should be, too. Instead, builders are still tethering tens of thousands of homes and other new buildings each year to natural gas pipelines.
Denver and Boulder have taken steps to push alternatives. Here and there individual action has occurred. In Westminster, John Avenson in 2017 ordered his natural gas meter removed after maximizing the passive solar potential of his house. (YouTube video tour of John’s home.) In Arvada, Norbert Klebl developed 30 homes without natural gas in a project called GEOS. In Basalt, two affordable housing complexes have been built without natural gas. An all-electric hotel is under construction in Snowmass. North Vista Highlands is slowly taking shape in Pueblo. In Fort Collins, plans have been drawn up for Montava, a 500-unit project.
We have been pivoting slowly, but the transition is accelerating.
Granted, the generation of electricity still causes atmospheric pollution. Emissions will dramatically drop by 2030, however, as Colorado’s utilities close nine of today’s 10 coal-burning units.
Colorado legislators in 2021 passed several laws that collectively seek to squeeze emissions from our buildings. The laws reflect the state’s political makeup. Colorado may be dominated by Democrats, but it’s still a purplish state. In other words, don’t expect a wave of Crested Butte-type mandates such as occurred in California beginning in 2019. We walk on a different balancing beam.
Most important among Colorado’s legislative squeezes is Senate Bill 21-264, which requires Colorado’s four regulated natural gas utilities to incrementally reduce emissions.
The law identifies several pathways. They can, for example, help customers improve efficiency of buildings, so buildings need less gas to provide comfort. They can augment the methane obtained by drilling with methane diverted from sewage plants, feedlots and other sources. The first of their plans will be filed with state regulators in 2023. The bottom line is that the gas companies will have to adjust their business models.
The Colorado Public Utilities Commission has now set about creating rules for evaluating clean-heat plans. In filings beginning last December, real estate agents, home builders and even some municipalities have argued that converting from natural gas will add costs. That was the same message at recent meetings in Montrose and Grand Junction. Their message was simple: Don’t change.
In metro Denver’s more affluent northwest suburbs, Christine Brinker of the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project reports a draft policy would give builders a choice between either all-electric or natural gas with extra energy efficiency.
Unless a way can be found to cost-effectively sequester carbon emissions, natural gas will slowly be phased out in coming decades. Ironically, the arrival of natural gas was one reason that coal mining ended in Crested Butte in 1952 after a seven-decade run.
Home Builders Are Not ‘Getting It’ When It Comes to Building Sustainable Homes
Last week I worked with a buyer looking at new homes. One community we visited was in central Arvada; the other was just north of Golden at the corner of Hwy. 93 and 58th Ave.
Neither builder was even offering upgrades such as solar panels, heat pump HVAC systems, or induction cooktops.
Yes, they were enhancing the insulation of their homes, but little else.
And, speaking of solar panels, neither builder was building into the design of their homes an orientation that would favor solar panels on the roof. One had unnecessary peaks or dormers on their roofs that would seriously inhibit the usefulness of the roof for installing a solar photovoltaic system.
The heating systems in both communities were gas forced air furnaces, which I consider obsolete. Such furnaces require the separate installation of an A/C compressor to provide cooling. I asked if an upgrade to a heat pump system was available, and it wasn’t.
These are silly and unnecessary design flaws in any new construction. A heat pump HVAC system provides both heating and cooling within one unit. It is the preferred choice in Europe and Asia, but our builders seem to know only gas forced air furnaces with a conventional A/C add-on.
New-build homes are typically equipped with conventional gas water heaters, while it would be just as easy and cost little more to install a highly efficient heat pump water heater, as I have done.
Geothermal heat pump systems are the “gold standard” when it comes to energy efficiency and sustainability in new home construction. Retrofitting an existing home with geothermal can be prohibitively expensive, but on a dirt-start build, it would be easy to drill geothermal wells in the middle of the basement or crawl space before installing the foundation and building the house. There’s even more efficiency in a dirt-start subdivision, because the drilling rig could go from one unit to the next, drilling 10, 20 or 100 geothermal wells in one area.
I have written in the past about the Geos Community west of Indiana Street and 68th Avenue in Arvada, where all the detached single-family homes have geothermal heat pump systems, and all the townhomes have air source heat pump systems. They also have heat pump water heaters and induction electric ranges, and all have south-facing roofs with solar panels providing all the electricity to run each of those systems. There is no need for natural gas service to the homes.
Geos was intended to showcase the cost effectiveness of all-electric homes using geothermal and air source heat pump systems and orienting the homes for maximum passive solar as well as active solar efficiency. But it seems that builders are slow learners. The developer who purchased the lots next to the previously built Geos Community felt it necessary to install natural gas service to all its new homes currently under construction “because buyers want gas,” much to the understandable dismay and anger of the Geos Community residents.
There is similar inertia in the HVAC industry itself. It’s hard to find an HVAC company that even understands the advantages of heat pumps for heating and cooling homes. It is so much easier for them to do what they have learned to do, even though it represents an obsolete technology. I have heard countless stories of homeowners whose forced air furnace needed replacing and who were unable to get their HVAC vendor to sell them a heat pump system. Most HVAC vendors just want to keep doing what they already know how to do.
(I can recommend a couple vendors who specialize in heat pump systems and even geothermal drilling. Ask me.)
This is not unlike the problem with car dealerships and electric vehicles. If you go to a Chevy dealer and ask about the Chevy Bolt EV, the salesman will often bad-mouth the Bolt and try to sell you a non-electric model that he loves to sell and requires no learning on his part of new technology.
This guest speaker at the April meeting of the Denver Electric Vehicle Council was a man who, having bought a Chevy Volt in 2012, convinced a Texas Chevy dealership to let him be a salesman of EVs exclusively. Other salesmen started sending him buyers who expressed an interest in EVs, and he quickly became the number one seller of EVs in the state of Texas. It helped that hardly any other Texas car dealership had a salesman who was comfortable selling EVs. Their loss.
Getting back to home construction, we need and the planet needs home builders to be more educated about the wisdom and relative ease of building energy efficient, solar-powered, all-electric homes with a passive solar orientation and design. It’s not that hard to learn, but we need to overcome the inertia built into that industry just as with the automotive and other industries.
Realtor Magazine Features All-Electric Home Trend
This week’s email from Realtor Magazine featured “13 Home Trends Stealing the Spotlight in 2022,” and I was pleased to see that trend number twelve was “All-Electric Homes.”
I could have written it myself! I can’t improve upon the wording, so here it is, verbatim:
More homeowners understand the importance of “decarbonizing” everything from products to transportation, and especially their homes, says Chicago- and Boulder, Colo.-based architect Nate Kipnis of Kipnis Architecture + Planning. “The way we can best do this is by eliminating all fossil fuels use from houses and including induction cooktops rather than gas for cooking, which offers safer, faster, and more even cooking,” he says. Kipnis recommends using either an air-source heat pump (mini-split) for the HVAC system or a ground source system (geotherm-al). The big payoff, he says, is that renewable energy has become the cheapest form of electricity generation.
Must Read: ‘From Homes to Cars, It’s Now Time to Electrify Everything’
Every now and then I read an article that I am compelled to share, because it simply “nails it.”
Such was the article by Saul Griffith, published Oct. 19, 2021, on the Yale School of the Environment website, http://www.e360.yale.edu, and re-posted Nov 30, 2021, on GreenBuildingAdvisor.com.
Here’s a link to the full article: https://e360.yale.edu/features/from-homes-to-cars-its-now-time-to-electrify-everything.
The thesis of that article is summarized as follows: “The key to shifting away from fossil fuels is for consumers to begin replacing their home appliances, heating systems, and cars with electric versions powered by clean electricity. The challenges are daunting, but the politics will change when the economic benefits are widely felt.”
The diagram above right shows what can be electrified in a home. Rita and I are most of the way there. This fall I purchased an electric snow blower to complement our electric lawn mower, weed eater, leaf blower and automobiles. Earlier this year I purchased a heat pump water heater to complement our heat pump hybrid furnace. (Hybrid, because it still burns natural gas when the outdoor temperature dips below 30° F.)
All these electric devices are powered by the sun, thanks to our 10-kW solar PV system installed when we bought our home in 2012. Because we still cook with gas and occasionally burn gas in our furnace and fireplace, our Xcel bill is still around $35-40 per month, but we’re doing our part to “electrify everything.”
You can do that, too.
The central thesis of Saul Griffith’s article is that we have little control over the supply side of energy, although there are encouraging signs of it becoming less dependent on fossil fuels. But we have total control over the demand side of energy:
“We don’t have a lot of choice on the supply side, but we have all of the choice on the demand side. For the most part, we decide what we drive, how we heat our water, what heats our homes, what cooks our food, what dries our laundry, and even what cuts our grass. This constitutes our ‘personal infrastructure,’ and it is swapping out that infrastructure that will be a key driver of the global transition from fossil fuels to green energy.”
According to Griffith, who co-founded the non-profit Rewiring America, there are 280 million cars and trucks in America, 70 million fossil-fueled furnaces, 60 million fossil-fueled water heaters, 20 million gas dryers, and 50 million gas stoves, ovens and cooktops. Until now, the conversation has been about making each of those fossil-fueled appliances more efficient, earning “Energy Star” ratings.
But the real goal should be to replace them with electric appliances burning the increasingly green electricity which is being generated by our electric utilities.
A common refrain from people regarding electric cars is that they are not really zero emissions because of how the electricity is generated. I myself was originally reluctant to buy an EV because I didn’t want to “switch from burning gas to burning coal.”
However, that argument overlooks the relative efficiency of electric motors. In a fossil-fueled car, only 20% of the energy in the fuel is propelling the car. The rest is waste energy, primarily creating heat which then requires more fuel to cool it. In an EV, 90% of the energy from the battery propels the car. There’s almost no waste energy.
An suitable analogy to the gas-powered car is an incandescent light bulb, in which light is a byproduct of heating the filament. It’s no surprise that the LED light bulb uses about 20% of the electricity of an incandescent light bulb for the same amount of light, because light is the primary product of the LED, not a by-product of waste energy.
Because of its relative efficiency, even if an EV is charged from electricity created entirely by coal, its carbon footprint is far below that of a fossil-fuelel vehicle. The same applies to today’s highly efficient heat pumps for both space heating (and cooling) and for water heating.
Griffith’s point is that more efficient fossil-fueled appliances won’t get us where we need to be to save the planet from catastrophic climate change. We need to get to zero emissions, which is only possible by going all-electric in our homes and vehicles as our electric utilities make their inevitable transition — whether incentivized by government or simply by the economies of renewable energy — to clean energy.
You, like me, will love the effects of this transition to all-electric living. Imagine a future where carbon dioxide is not a household poison; where motorcycles don’t disturb the peace and quiet of our streets and canyons; where semis slow down quietly because they are putting energy back into their batteries instead of using loud and polluting engine braking; where our neighbors aren’t disturbed by loud lawn mowers, snow blowers and leaf blowers; and where children no longer suffer health problems from their own school buses or playgrounds next to highways.
You, like me, will appreciate the ease of use and near-zero maintenance of electric devices. My snow blower, lawn mower, and leaf blower start by pushing a button or pulling a lever and never need a tune-up, refueling or oil change.
Griffith is not arguing that everyone should immediately swap out their fossil-fueled cars or appliances but rather avoid replacing them with newer ones. Cars, for example, can last for 20 years, and gas furnaces for 15 years. When they need replacing, make the smart choice and replace them with their electric counterparts. You’ll be glad you did five or ten years later when their resale value has evaporated due to public recognition that they became obsolete before you purchased them.
Arvada City Council Buys Into a Developer’s False Narrative That New Homes Must Have Natural Gas
It’s sad to see elected officials not taking the time to learn about new technology, especially technology that contributes to abating the effects of climate change.
Such is the story unfolding in the city of Arvada, where the city council — historically super friendly to developers — has bought into a false narrative by a developer/builder team that all-electric homes are not affordable or desired by today’s home buyers.
This is happening despite the fact that Arvada is itself home to a well known model of affordable all-electric homes in the Geos Community located west of Indiana Street and south of 72nd Avenue.
The Geos Community was partially built out several years ago without any natural gas lines. Home heating is by geothermal and air source heat pumps. Cooking is on induction cooktops. Heat pump water heaters provide the domestic hot water. Solar panels on each home provide all the electricity needed for these and other needs, making all 26 current homes “net zero energy.”
Before the Geos Community could be fully built out, its original developer was forced into selling due to a divorce settlement. Otherwise the remaining 250 homes — a mix of townhomes and single family homes — would have been built to the same net zero standard. The new developer had promised to do so, as described in a Nov. 17, 2020, post on MileHighCRE.com, but it reneged on that promise and is in the process of installing natural gas lines to the new homes, greatly annoying and angering the owners of the original 26 homes.
The fossil fuel industry duped all of us by promoting methane as a “natural and safe” gas for use in homes. This gas is highly heat-trapping (80-100 times more so than carbon dioxide), prone to explosion and causes many health issues (see Electric4Health.org). During the last decade Colorado added an average of 20,500 residential gas customers each year. BigPivots.com reports that our state now has 1.8 million residential gas customers. That trend needs to be reversed. There’s no need to keep building home reliant on natural gas.
Geos homeowners appealed to Arvada’s city council to deny the developer a permit for the gas lines, but the city declined to do so. The neighbors, however, are not giving up and have 267 signatures (including my own) on a petition to reverse that decision. The City of Arvada has advised the current Geos residents that this issue is closed.
Arvada should be proud that it is the home of the country’s first “geosolar” community which has, among other honors, been featured several times in the Metro Denver Green Homes Tour. I myself have produced narrated video tours of three Geos homes for that tour, which you can view here, here, and here.
As part of its COP 26 coverage this week in Glasgow, CNN will air a segment on Geos as a home building model to be emulated, essential for addressing climate change.