Green Tip: Decarbonization and Home Electrification

Green Tip: Decarbonization and Home Electrification

As a part of our mission to help our community transition to a more sustainable lifestyle, we are opening the conversation on home electrification. Decreasing our reliance on natural gas is critical, both from an environmental and safety standpoint. To offer the most accurate information, we interviewed an expert on the subject, Cash Upton, our very own team member and President of the Board of the Central Coast Green Building Council (CCGBC) who released this year an electrification series to educate building professionals.

 Photo credit: iStock.com/newannyart

Photo credit: iStock.com/newannyart

Why is it important to make our homes less dependent on natural gas?

Residential homes and commercial buildings contribute to about 40% of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, as they require a lot of energy during the building process and their operation. This is where decarbonizing our built environment and home electrification become important.

Decarbonization entails the sourcing and sustainability of building materials, the transportation that it takes to get to the project site, and essentially the carbon footprint of constructing a building.

Electrification refers to the process of converting gas appliances to electric appliances, in order to create all-electric buildings that, when powered by renewable energy, will decrease our CO2 dependence, and allow communities to meet carbon offset goals. 

In 2022, The CCGBC created a three-part sustainable building series, which aimed at demonstrating how decarbonization and electrification could help our communities move towards a more sustainable and safer lifestyle.

Do architects play a role in this process?

Yes, home electrification ultimately begins with intentional and thoughtful design. If architects, who are the first persons to come up with the concept of how something is built, are already thinking about electrification, it will flow all the way down the construction process and electrification elements will be included.

Coming into effect in January 2023, a new law mandated by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) California chapter, is an education requirement for architects to get their license renewed. There will be 5 hours of zero net carbon design learning units that architects will need to go through every year to keep their licenses in good standing.

What appliances can easily be switched to electric?

Heat pumps are an easy switch because they are using an efficient compressor, and can heat and cool. [Note: It is a great way to get off natural gas. You can read more about heat pumps in this blog post.]

Electric water heaters are also becoming more prevalent, and newer heat pumps coming on the market have the possibility to heat water. This can be interesting for pool heating, as pools are significant natural gas users for the heaters. 

Induction cooktops are also an easy switch. It is using magnets that are spinning around and causing the molecules in the metal to heat up. It also creates much better indoor air quality.

Lastly, gas dryers can be switched to electric dryers, which are easier to maintain, will cost less money upfront, and remove the need for gas line connections to a home.

 

 Photo credit: iStock.com/brizmaker

Photo credit: iStock.com/brizmaker

What are some of the rebates and incentives available?

  • The Federal Energy Efficiency Tax Credit qualifies heat pumps to receive a 30% tax credit, available until 2032. It also qualifies other energy property costs, such as central air conditioning for a $300 tax credit, when they meet certain efficiency requirements. 
  • The Tri County Regional Energy Network (3CREN) offers multifamily and single-family programs that provide incentives to property owners to support both electrification and energy-efficient projects. 
  • Central Coast Community Energy (3CE) offers a few rebates: up to $3,500 for a heat pump HVAC equipment, up to $3,800 for heat pump water heater equipment and installation, up to $2,000 for electric panel upgrades and replacement, and an additional $1,000 per unit for CARE (California Alternate Rates for Energy Program) and FERA (Family Electric Rate Assistance Program) qualified customers. These rebates are available only when switching gas-powered water heaters and HVAC equipment to all-electric versions. 
  • The Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP) put on by the state of California offers rebates for home energy storage. Batteries can take a lot of loads off of our natural gas power plants. Instead of having to draw from the grid when the sun goes down, homeowners can cycle their own batteries and use a lot less natural gas power plant electricity. 
  • The Federal Incentive Tax Credit (ITC) allows customers installing solar panels to credit 30% of the cost of their solar installation off their taxes.

What are the main pushbacks to electrification and why?

One of the biggest pushbacks is that there is a big industry of oil and gas. Although natural gas can be a lot cleaner than coal and other forms of combustibles, it is still creating carbon dioxide. And its extraction has many negative impacts such as water contamination, gas leaks, disruption of ecosystems, and exposure to hazardous chemicals.  

Mindsets are another challenge, as there is a lot of reluctance caused by the memory of cooking on electric heating coils in the 1960s. These used resistive heating, which were causing an electrical short to create heat and were very inefficient. Although a gas cooktop might be nice to cook on, it still has indoor air quality and CO2 concerns. 

Thirdly, the low number of heat pump installers is also a pushback, as it is a new technology and not as many HVAC installers know how to do it, so it increases the price of installation.

 Photo credit: iStock.com/newannyart

Photo credit: iStock.com/newannyart

Where can one find resources?

The CCGBC’s webinars from the electrification series, and the Committee on the Environment (COTE) of the AIA Santa Barbara are great resources. The CCGBC will be continuing this series next year in 2023, with some further expanded learning offerings and zero net energy building tours.

In conclusion, why is this important?

Whether you are planning on building a new home, are currently in the process of remodeling, or are a homeowner looking to make a few upgrades, decarbonization and home electrification are important to understand and keep in mind. This can make your home more energy efficient and resilient, reduce your energy bills, help the environment by lowering your carbon footprint, improve your indoor air quality and safety, and you can take advantage of limited time rebates.