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.

Geos Neighborhood

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.

Here’s a Postscript to My Earlier Post About All-Electric Homes

Some readers were surprised to read my column promoting the all-electric home as a cost-effective contribution to the mitigation of climate change.

If you’re thinking of 20th Century home construction, promoting the all-electric home would make little sense. Electric baseboard heating has its place, but no longer as a whole house solution. One advantage of it is that each room can have its own thermostat, so you’re only heating rooms when you use them. For the heat it produces, however, it is many times more expensive than using a mini-split heat pump solution. Recently I showed a home where a heat pump mini-split was used to heat a detached and insulated garage which doubled as a workshop. That’s a great application for that kind of heating — also because the mini-split can cool the garage in the summer, not just heat it in the winter.

There has been a revolution in the development of electric appliances, too. The induction cooktop, for example, is a highly efficient replacement for earlier electric ranges or cooktops which used resistance-based cooking elements.

Another change from the 20th Century: you can now generate your own electricity with highly affordable roof-top solar photovoltaic installations.

All-Electric Homes (and Buildings) Are Central to Mitigating Climate Change

As much as we Americans love our gas fireplaces, gas ranges and gas grills, we need to recognize that the move to an all-electric home, with the electricity being generated using minimal fossil fuels, is central to the goal of mitigating the effects of climate change.

And it can be a good future, especially if you’re able to generate all the electricity that your home and cars use.

That’s the future Rita and I have created for ourselves. We have 10 kW of solar panels on our Golden home, enough to heat and cool our home and charge our two electric cars. Our forced air furnace only burns gas when the outside temp dips below freezing. Otherwise, a heat pump provides all the heat we need. And recently we replaced our gas water heater with a hybrid water heater that heats all the water we need using its built-in heat pump. It has a standard electric heater coil in case we need faster recovery.  (We never have needed faster recovery.)

Yes, we still have a gas cooktop and gas fireplace, and our BBQ grill is plumbed with gas. I can picture us moving to an induction electric cooktop, electric fireplace and electric grill, but for now we comfort ourselves with the knowledge that we have drastically reduced our carbon footprint and our monthly energy bills with the use of heat pumps for heating, cooling and water heating, as well as by driving EVs.

A December article on axios.com reported that some progressive jurisdictions are now banning gas hookups in new residential and commercial construction. According the article, 40 California municipalities, starting with Berkeley in 2019, have banned the installation of natural gas service in new construction.

The most common argument against this anti-natural gas trend relates to the cost of electric heating vs. gas heating, but the people who make that argument are probably thinking of conventional resistance heating, such as baseboard electric heating.

Resistance heating is similar to your kitchen toaster, sending electricity to a coil causing it to generate heat.  There is a more efficient way to heat, however, which is to use a heat pump. A heat pump moves heat instead of generating heat, and the cost is as little at one quarter that of resistance heating for the same BTU (heat) output. Here’s a article comparing the two kinds of electric heating.

Moreover, a heat pump can provide both heating and cooling, merely by reversing the direction in which it moves heat, replacing both the gas furnace and electric air conditioning unit which most of us have in our homes.

Another argument against increased electrification is that electricity is itself created by the burning of coal and natural gas. The current fuel mix of Xcel Energy in Colorado is 36% natural gas, 32.5% coal, and the rest renewable energy (mostly wind). The company’s goal is 55% renewable by 2026 and 100% “carbon-free” by 2050, so it makes sense to start now replacing gas appliances with high efficiency electric ones such as heat pumps.

Keep in mind, too, that we can generate our own electricity at home and on our office buildings, taking advantage of “net metering,” paying only to be connected to the electric grid. With net metering, Xcel’s grid functions like a battery, taking excess electricity from our solar installations during the day and delivering it back to us when the sun goes away — or when our solar panels are covered with snow!

All-Electric Homes Are Practical Now, and Can Help Mitigate Climate Change

The typical American home is powered electrically but heated by natural gas, propane or other fossil fuels. You and I can generate our own electricity with solar panels, but there’s no way for us to generate natural gas or other fossil fuel energy, so the transition to a “net zero energy” lifestyle necessitates turning away from fossil fuels and going all-electric.

Fortunately, technology has advanced — just in the last decade — to the point where going all-electric is totally practical, affordable, and a way you and I can mitigate climate change

At Golden Real Estate, our office was heated with natural gas until November 2017, when we installed a heat pump “mini-split” system and had our natural gas meter removed. With 20 kilowatts of solar photovoltaic panels, we were able to eliminate our natural gas bill but not increase our electric bill. We continue to pay just $11 per month to be connected to the electric grid (which functions as our “battery” thanks to net metering), but we are generating all the electricity needed to power, heat and cool our office building. We even have enough electricity from the solar panels to power our four electric cars without buying any net electricity from Xcel Energy. We hope other businesses will follow our lead.

Making the switch to all-electric at home is still in our future, because — like you, I suspect — we prefer gas cooking, gas grilling, and having a gas fireplace.

If, however, we can get beyond those preferences, it is possible now to heat our home and domestic hot water using heat pump appliances, and to cook our food with electric or induction cooktops and ovens.  Electric grilling is also available, although not as attractive from a taste standpoint to most of us.

All-electric homes was the subject of a talk by architect Peter Ewers at last week’s meeting of the Colorado Renewable Energy Society’s Jeffco chapter.  You can view an archived video of Peter’s talk at www.cres-energy.org/video.

Once we have removed gas service from our homes (and gas cars from our garages), we will have also eliminated the risks of explosion and carbon monoxide poisoning, too.  Wouldn’t that be great?