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About this blog: Climate change, despite its outsized impact on the planet, is still an abstract concept to many of us. That needs to change. My hope is that readers of this blog will develop a better understanding of how our climate is evolving a...  (More)

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Electric Home Tour -- What were your takeaways?

Uploaded: Oct 15, 2023

Were any of you able to attend the Electric Home Tour on Saturday? If so, I’d love to hear what you took away from the homes that you visited. The tour is a well organized event with hosts who share real-world information on the process and outcome of different types of electrification. Since few of us get excited about redoing our HVAC or water heating -- it’s daunting just contemplating it -- it can be helpful to look at, listen to, and even try out some electric appliances (or vehicles!), and talk with people to get recommendations for contractors, products, etc.

I wasn’t able to participate this year -- I was sick! -- but I’ve seen some of the materials that homeowners shared and I’ve talked with a few tour participants. One thing that is clear is that these efficient electric appliances are more common than you think, quieter than you think, and the bills are lower than you think.

I’d also say that people seem more concerned these days about the potential for high gas prices than they have in the past. One motivation for doing some electrification is to get some protection from gas price spikes.

Finally, I’d say that talking with people teaches you that there are many ways to begin, that it’s very normal to spread this out over many years, and there are both low-cost and high-cost approaches.

A low-cost approach might start with some of these:
- Put LED lights in the 3-4 places where you use light the most.
- Put one mini-split in the main room of your home for heating and cooling. This will add comfort in summer and greatly reduce your need for gas heating in winter.
- Replace your gas tank water heater when yours is on the older side (8-10 years). There are rebates for this, it’s usually a straight forward swap, and it’s about one-third of your home’s gas use.
- Buy an e-bike or low-cost used EV (e.g., a Fiat 500e) for your local transportation. Charge it from a standard outlet.
- Make sure that you have decent roof insulation. Consider a smart thermostat and/or window shades on the sunniest windows.

You can of course spend a lot more money if you want. Higher-cost approaches include long-range cars with fast charging, more comprehensive electric heating, split system high-capacity water heaters, solar roofs and home batteries, upgraded electric panels, and more. It’s okay to do all of this if you can afford it. But you can spend much less and still make a huge dent in your gas use while also making your home more comfortable and your transportation more fun and quieter with the convenience of at-home charging. Many of the homes on the tour seem to have done everything, but it often happened over a long period of time. You just need to start somewhere. That is the most important thing.

As many homeowners mentioned, you can get help on efficiency and electrification improvements from your local power provider. Palo Alto makes it very easy to swap out your water heater or evaluate your home’s efficiency. Silicon Valley Clean Energy will help you find products, rebates, and contractors. Peninsula Clean Energy offers multiple rebates and zero-interest loans. good rebates on water heaters and used EVs. Rewiring America offers a helpful calculator to understand federal incentives.

Finally, one tip that I always share with people is to install a circuit monitor when you put in electric heating. A monitor is inexpensive and simple to install, and it will provide helpful information if you are wondering about your bill or trying to figure out how to reduce your use.

If you went on the tour, what were your takeaways?

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Posted by KOhlson, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Oct 15, 2023 at 2:39 pm

KOhlson is a registered user.

I went to four homes near me. It was fun and informative to meet those who have the practical knowledge from their experience. The homes ranged from a LEEDS Platinum (designed and built) to ad hoc efforts. My takeaways:
- The organizers needed to test their email links. As of 10am Saturday the link in their email didn't work, and I had to dig to a previous email to find a "help link" Unforced error.
-The homeowners seemed very enthusiastic/happy about their electric efforts, some of which were done 10 years ago.
- For rooftop solar, rinsing versus cleaning with soap and water makes very little difference in panel output.
- Each home had additional and informative handouts.
- I picked up the name of a good contractor (recommended by 2 of the 4 homeowners).

One interesting anecdote was a homeowner mentioning that they went all-electric in their just-completed remodel, but CPAU would not cap their gas line. "Someone might want it in the future." So it's just locked.

Very glad for the event, and it was time well-spent.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 16, 2023 at 4:50 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@KOhlson, thanks for that update, and great to hear it was useful, and that you were able to see a variety of different types of homes.

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