Goin’ All-In with an All-Electric Home
My wife Susan and I recently completed a transition to an all-electric home. Those old enough to remember the “Live Better Electrically” campaigns of the late 1950’s may think this is folly. The Westinghouse “total electric homes” promoted from that era promised a “home where electricity does everything, heats, cools, illuminates, launders, preserves and prepares foods, and entertains. It even lights a path to the front door.” Unfortunately, the inefficiency of the electric appliances and systems of the day pretty much guaranteed that all-electric utility costs would be prohibitively high for most families.
Thankfully, circumstances are much different today and going electric can offer both financial and environmental benefits. The advantages are multiplied if you install solar panels to generate a significant portion of your own electricity.
Plus, there are now significant incentives for going all-electric! See our Ways to Save webpage (scroll down to Home Energy Efficiency Incentives). Note, utility bill assistance programs are now listed at the top of the Ways to Save page.
How we went “all in” with electric
We started moving towards all-electric six years ago when we remodeled our kitchen. We swapped out the old cooktop for a slide-in induction model. We are grateful every time we cook a meal. Our new induction cooktop is a standard 30-inch width. If you want a professional sized 36” cooktop, with five or six heating areas, there are several induction models available in that upgraded category.
The next step we took, two years ago, was replacing both our furnace and air conditioner (AC) with an all-electric air-source heat pump that can do both jobs. We were “inspired” by a decision to reclaim the area the furnace occupied because it encroached on the hall bathroom. It made the bathroom so small that my wife’s mother was not able to get into the room using a walker. To rectify that and because we hope aging in place is an option for us, we decided to eliminate the furnace and install the inside portion of the heat pump in the attic.
The furnace and AC systems were over 15 years old, so making this switch was an easy decision in terms of costs.
The final change was replacing our 30-year-old gas water heater with an all-electric heat pump water heater. We decided to make our move before the water heater died — when we would have to replace it on an emergency basis — which would likely have locked us into another gas water heater. We made our plan and decided to move forward before it failed.
We considered a tankless electric water heater but the models available at the time were criticized as potentially not able to keep up with demand. We also gave some thought to installing a tankless gas water heater. But the reduction in gas use from a tank to tankless water heater is only about 20%. That is significant but not enough to convince us that sticking with gas was a good idea.
There are a few additional considerations, among them that a heat pump water heater requires 1000 cubic feet of air to draw from. So, you can’t install a heat pump water heater in a closet. Luckily, ours can live in the garage. It has worked well through the winter and cools the garage some in the summer.
The technology behind electric appliances has improved dramatically since the electric craze of the 1950s. A good example is cooktops. Electric coil and smooth-top cooktops are common and inexpensive with about 75% efficiency, and gas cooktops, long preferred by chefs as the gold standard, are in fact only 40% efficient. Electric induction cooktops, by contrast, are 84% efficient, heat only the cooking pan using an oscillating magnetic field, heat faster, and respond more quickly. They are safer and produce no combustion gases, a significant source of indoor air pollution.
Read our full article about induction cooktops.
To lower the water heating portion of your energy bill, the best choices are heat pump water heaters (HPWH) and solar water heating. Both of these technologies are usually more expensive up front but they have significantly lower annual operating costs that result in short payback periods and longer periods of additional savings.
Heat pump water heaters are four times more efficient that the best gas burning units and cost less to run according to our utility incentive program website (see below). The National Resources Defense Council reports that HPWHs save an average 4-person home close to $350 per year in costs.
There are two types of solar water heating systems: active, which have circulating pumps and controls, and passive, which don’t. Solar water heating systems are typically supplemental. Check out this Cool Davis article on solar water heating systems: https://www.cooldavis.org/2018/11/16/solar-water-heating-systems-cost-effective-and-carbon-reducing/
Tankless or on-demand water heaters, lower “stand-by” energy consumption and costs, however, smaller tankless systems have limited output which limits flow rate, and larger systems draw large quantities of energy when on.
Download the Cool Davis All-Electric Planning Guide
Heat pump space conditioning systems
Heat pump space conditioning systems move heat from the outdoors into your house during the heating season, and, during the cooling season, they move heat from your house to the outdoors, using the same technology as a refrigerator or air conditioner. Because they transfer heat rather than generate it, heat pumps are more efficient. The most common type of heat pump is an air-source heat pump. Other types of heat pumps include geothermal and the relatively new absorption type.
Heat pumps provide an energy efficient alternative to gas-fired furnaces and can be adapted to your current centralized duct system or installed as ductless mini-splits in individual rooms. Heat pumps can reduce your energy use for heating by approximately 50% compared to baseboard heaters and can reduce capital outlays by combing both heating and cooling into one system. While heat pumps are most efficient in temperate climates like California, new technologies are allowing heat pumps to work well in most climates.
These big decisions matter most
Buying any of these major items is a big decision. Generally, you don’t want to jump to the next newest thing prematurely, even if it’s more energy efficient than your current model. There is an environmental cost in energy, waste, and pollution in the manufacture of any item. However, the cost and emissions savings of energy efficient home systems usually outweigh the “embedded energy” for most appliances rather quickly.
Incentives can also make going all-electric much easier on the pocketbook. Although solar water heating incentives ended in 2020, there are significant space conditioning and other related building energy incentives still available.
- Heat pump space conditioning: between $3000 to $4800 in rebates plus additional options
- Heat pump water heating: Up to $3,800 rebate for gas switch out
- Electrical panel upgrades: $2,800 rebate for electric switch out
To benefit from these rebates, homeowners must use approved contractors. Cool Davis partner contractors include Greiner Heating & Air Conditioning and Brower Mechanical. There are more than a dozen such providers in our region. See the incentives section below for links to incentives.
That satisfying feeling
Susan and I are very satisfied with the decision we made to transition to all-electric. Because we have solar panels, our overall costs for energy are small. The additions we made pushed us over the edge so that we now have only a very small electric bill at true-up time – and no gas bill at all!
The move did require some capital expenditures but, given that our HVAC system, water heater, and stove were aging, those costs were coming up anyhow. We’re not sure if going all-in with electric will ultimately save us money, that, of course, depends on the changing costs of natural gas and electricity. Given the recent price hike in natural gas, however, it looks like a smart move.
More reading and resources
Cool Davis Electric Heat Pump FAQs
Cool Davis Home Energy webpage
Cool Davis Home Energy & Efficiency YouTube playlist
For a look at the electric ethos of the 50’s, check out this video
Heat Pump Incentives
TECH Clean California https://energy-solution.com/tech/
Email TECH.email@example.com for more information
New TECH program incentives are designed to dovetail with the existing Comfortable Home Rebate program through PG&E whose website shows both rebates side by side: comfortablehomerebates.com
Cool Davis Make a Plan for a Clean Energy Home materials
Video of workshop
Cool Davis Understanding My Home Worksheet Final
Cool Davis All-Electric Planning Guide Final (repeat from above)
Cool Davis HVAC Common Terms
Cool Davis Working w Contractors Cheat Sheet Final
Cool Davis Contractor Bid Comparison Table
AIR SOURCE HEAT PUMP SPACE CONDITIONING
When Does It Make Sense to Go with an Energy Efficient HVAC System? PowerScout payback period calculations https://powerscout.com/site/make-sense-go-energy-efficient-hvac-system
Cool Davis induction cooktop article: https://www.cooldavis.org/2020/11/06/could-you-be-induced-to-switch-to-an-induction-cooktop/
HEAT PUMP WATER HEATERS
Choose an EnergyStar Heat Pump Water Heater Buying Guide
SOLAR THERMAL WATER HEATING
https://digital.lib.washington.edu/researchworks/handle/1773/38544 – buildings consume 41% of all energy in the US