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A few months ago I wrote Home electrification: Why cities are phasing out natural gas. Since then, my husband and I have been discussing a sustainable home improvement plan and how to go electric.
We've had a solar roof system for seven years. The additional energy we need from the grid comes from San Jose Green Energy and is 100% renewable. We also power our electric car at home about 50% of the time. That's pretty good considering we live in a 1960's ranch-style house that we bought as a fixer-upper. But we want to keep pushing forward.
We still have several gas appliances which means a good chunk of our electric bill is natural gas. Plus, we still need power storage so we can use our own solar energy after the sun goes down, and eventually get completely off the grid. So we have several sustainable home improvements in our future.
To accomplish all this, we have a step by step sustainable home improvement plan for going electric at home. I'll share what we learn through this journey in the hopes that it might be helpful for others working on similar projects. This post covers our plan as it stands today. Before we dig in further here's why we're going electric, and the sustainable home improvement guide that's helping us through it all.
The problem with natural gas
Natural gas sounds, well, natural. Instead, it’s a fossil fuel that’s pulled from the ground through fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing. Natural gas is linked to all kinds of environmental issues, from climate change to methane leaks and water contamination. There are also major health issues associated with cooking with natural gas.
“Gas stoves cause unhealthy levels of Nitrous Oxides that would be illegal if it were from a gas power plant. After just twenty minutes of cooking and a sunny window, a kitchen can have actual smog and trigger asthma and lung ailments,” according to A Zero Emissions All-Electric Single-Family Construction Guide.
The sustainable home improvement guide we're using
Now that you understand why home electrification is important for our health and climate, it's time to get started! My friends at the Campaign for Fossil Free Buildings in Silicon Valley have put together several helpful and reliable guides for building electrification. Below is a link to the guide we're using. This guide offers big picture information about why home electrification is necessary, laws that encourage home electrification in California, and how to pick electric appliances. It even offers an electric appliance price guide that's super helpful.
Our sustainable home improvement plan
As you may have gathered by now, home electrification is not an easy or cheap DIY project. That's why we're going step by step as our time and budget allow.
These are the sustainable home improvements we've already done, and what we plan to do. Our goal is to eventually shut off the natural gas line to the house and store enough power to live off the grid for a week if necessary.
Step #1: Clean up our power
As I wrote earlier, we already have access to 100% renewable energy through our electrical company and we have a home solar panel system. So for us, our external energy sources are clean. But step one was to get clean and renewable power from the grid and home solar power system.
Step #2: Update the electrical panel
We already have a 200 amp electrical panel, which is enough to charge our electric car and the electric range. However, by the time we go all-electric, we will need to add an additional electrical panel. If you're going step by step, make sure your electrical panel is up to the task. Now our next step is to upgrade our wiring for each appliance as we go.
Step #3: Check the wiring
The outlet for our natural gas stove was only 120 volts, so before we had the induction range installed, an electrician upgraded the outlet to 240 volts. That cost about $1,200. Not gonna lie, spending money to upgrade wiring is a lot more painful than spending money on a brand new range.
Step # 4: List natural gas appliances to replace
We have several natural gas appliances to replace. Here's a list of what needs to be replaced and what we might replace them with.
- Gas range – Mission accomplished! We replaced the natural gas range with an induction range last month. One gas appliance down, four to go.
- HVAC – I'm looking for a heat pump system that's efficient and has a low Global Warming Potential (GWP).
- Dryer – I would love to replace our separate washer and dryer with one combination condensing washer & dryer. I've used these in Europe and they are so much smarter. Why move the laundry over when you don't have to? Plus, it seems like a better use of space to only have one machine. Our laundry room is also an office and a storage area, so adding a few extra feet would be amazing.
- Gas fireplaces – This will be hard to replace. Our gas fireplace is so cozy! However, my son started complaining that his eyes burn when he sits next to it. Could that be from natural gas? Not sure, but I'm hoping to find an efficient electric fireplace to replace it.
- Hot water heater – We have a fairly new hot water heater so this might be the last to go.
Step # 4: Buy induction range
When I learned about the “go electric” movement I was hesitant to go back to an electric range. I grew up using an electric cooktop that took longer to heat than natural gas. That instant flame seemed more satisfying. But now that I'm used to the induction cooktop, I cannot imagine going back to natural gas. The induction cooktop boils water in what feels like seconds compared to the natural gas stove, and the entire pan heats so fast and evenly.
Step # 5: Update remaining appliances
Now that the induction range is installed we might need to take a breather from sustainable home remodeling projects for a while. As mentioned, it's an expensive project and we have to go step by step. But as time and budget allow, we will update the remaining appliances with the goal of eventually cutting the natural gas line.
Step #6: Power storage
Power storage is one of those things we agree that we want so we can go completely off the grid, but we're not sure when we'll get it done. The way I see it, natural gas has to go, so that's my priority. My hubby is all about power storage, and the Tesla Cyber Truck, so we will have to see what we decide to prioritize.
As I write this, I feel like we're moving too slowly considering how important the transition away from fossil fuels is for our kids and climate. But I also feel like we have a good plan moving forward, and least we're moving in the right direction. It's all a tricky balance between money and time and deciding what's the best choice based on our family's lifestyle. So none of this is easy. I'm trying to go easy on myself. But not so easy that we stop moving forward. Stay tuned 😉
If you're interested in learning more about sustainable home improvements and going electric, sign up for the newsletter and I'll keep you posted. If you're interested in the electrify everything movement, read The key to tackling climate change: electrify everything.