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Palo Alto takes aim at water heaters to curb carbon emissions

Original post made on Sep 28, 2022

Seeking to accelerate its climate change efforts, Palo Alto unveiled on Tuesday an ambitious new program that would replace 1,000 gas-fueled water heaters at local homes with heat pump water heaters by the end of next year.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, September 28, 2022, 1:40 PM

Comments (32)

Posted by Miriam Palm
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 28, 2022 at 4:11 pm

Miriam Palm is a registered user.

Not going to happen in our house. Please maintain citizen choices in such matters. I hear that heat pumps are not efficient in all types and sizes of houses. This sounds like an "improvement" for its own sake.


Posted by William Hitchens
a resident of Mountain View
on Sep 28, 2022 at 5:37 pm

William Hitchens is a registered user.

I agree with Miriam, but I don't believe in saying "please". I believe in preemptively controlling our home's energy options and to make sure that we upgrade our NG furnace, water heater, and gas stove. All with legal building permits and inspections to grandfather them for many years before new installations are banned. [Portion removed.]


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 28, 2022 at 5:54 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

I'm very tired of all PA's "new ambitious programs" when it can't manage its current ones or -- as Diana Diamond wrote this week -provide status reports and updates on whether CPAU is "ready" for increased electrical demand. She had a whole list of NON-answers to her questions she got from CPAU!

How much is this going to cost? How much will homeowners get?

I remember my plumber trying to apply for a my new water heater and it took him HOURS to get me $25 because the system was such a mess. Has anyone in City Hall have a clue what plumbes charge per hour??


Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 28, 2022 at 6:47 pm

Mondoman is a registered user.

@Online Check out Sherry Listgarten's comprehensive blog post. On the good side, this pilot program is intended to set up a turnkey option, where a pre-approved contractor will charge the flat price to install the system. That will hopefully greatly reduce the permitting/filing obstacles you mention, and perhaps could later be extended to e.g. solar panel installation.

On the bad side, the flat rate only applies if your house already has the electrical supply and wiring, suitable space and air access needed for the HPWH. If not, you're on the hook for paying for the modifications yourself. Our older house would likely need tens of thousands of dollars (!) of modifications to qualify.

The city has also decided for now not to pursue having multifamily, commercial or business buildings convert to electrical water heating. It's hard to escape the thought that this is another political consideration to help businesses avoid paying their fair share for Palo Alto's policies.


Posted by Sherry Listgarten
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 28, 2022 at 7:57 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Just to clarify one thing, the HPWH installation does include venting, running a drain line, setting up a circuit and running conduit from the electrical panel if needed. So that is pretty comprehensive. Moving walls and fixing panels is not included. Unsafe electrical panels and wiring can be an obstacle, but I think a bigger one may be tankless water heaters because they have a pretty different form factor and placement. If an electric panel is safe, there are HPWH options that do not require upgrading it. But we'll see how it goes. This is imo an important experiment/analysis to see how residential electrification works in practice, not just in theory.

Also, my understanding is they are happy to offer this to anyone with a residential-style water heater, which is the case for some multi-family housing for example. The problem is that there aren't currently great replacements for large/commercial water heaters. So they are starting with these.


Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 28, 2022 at 9:08 pm

Mondoman is a registered user.

Running conduit and wiring for a new circuit halfway across a house can be quite expensive on older homes. If that's really included in the flat price, that's a very good thing. I suppose the devil is in the details, but thanks very much for posting this info, Sherry! It will help very much if the City can publish a set of prerequisite specs on what's included and what's not included in the flat price.


Posted by Matt Schlegel
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 29, 2022 at 12:18 am

Matt Schlegel is a registered user.

I appreciate the City of Palo Alto's staff and council members efforts to lower greenhouse gas emissions. We must stop burning fossil fuels.


Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 29, 2022 at 6:52 am

Donald is a registered user.

Do you get to choose which brand and model of water heater you install with this program or does the contractor make the choice for you?


Posted by Hal Yount
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 29, 2022 at 7:27 am

Hal Yount is a registered user.

Saving a measly $5.00 on a monthly utility bill is trivial and just how much impact will a 1.3% reduction of carbon emissions in Palo Alto have on the rest of the world?

While $2700.00 is a drop in the bucket to most Palo Altans, a complete amortization of the costs will involve decades.


Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 29, 2022 at 9:06 am

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

All I know is the electric water boilers at my complex suck. It’s the equivalent of a “warm” water flat and we can’t hang out our washing for solar heated sanitation purposes . Even when our under linens are crisp and clean.


Posted by peppered
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 29, 2022 at 10:50 am

peppered is a registered user.

Saving the planet is not easy, comfortable or cheap.
There is no planet B.


Posted by Left of Boom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 29, 2022 at 10:54 am

Left of Boom is a registered user.

If Palo Alto were serious about their "sustainability" goals, it would contract out its planning department to another town because it is surely obstructing progress toward those goals. With the additional steps and delayed inspections, water heaters are the least of our problems.


Posted by Observer
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 29, 2022 at 11:08 am

Observer is a registered user.

@Sherry - what about Eichlers with their underground pipes? We removed the massive gas boiler and water heater and installed a wall-mounted tankless that does both hot water and radiant heat. Was that not a good environmental choice? We spent a lot as part of a remodel and aren't going back. I'm wondering how the talk about going all electric will impact Eichler houses which almost all have gas heating systems.


Posted by Citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 29, 2022 at 11:11 am

Citizen is a registered user.

I appreciate the effort. We will do this in a heartbeat if the whole amount is spread out. A lot of us don’t have that kind of cash lying around.

We installed solar PV a month ago only because a much longer loan made it possible. For some reason the city still has not just scheduled the final inspection so we can produce the power and the contractor can get paid. This included the heat wave when the City would have benefited from our power. We got an earful from contractors who wouldn’t do solar in Palo Alto and when neighbors saw our system go up, they asked for recommendations because they’d had such difficulty, they gave up.

So, the devil is in the (installation) details. The City needs to first put some effort into ensuring whatever logistical hurdles are discouraging solar installation here are solved.

That will also help encourage people to have confidence in the City’s installation for heat pump water heaters. I’m thrilled to see the City come up with a program. But I’d like to see two improvements: addressing the logistical hurdles for solar installation (do we need more personnel? What is the problem?) and making the water heater program accessible to people for whom the help will make the difference between installation and not, not just rich people who could pay for it anyway.

Our gas water heater is nearing the end if it’s life. If we have to replace, it’s going to be whatever we replace it with for a long time. Hoping the City makes electric possible for people like us. (And please come inspect our solar PV so we can start generating!)


Posted by Allan
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 29, 2022 at 11:32 am

Allan is a registered user.

For true comparison, can someone tell us the real cost to heat a 50 gal water heater in btu (gas) vs kwh (electric) at current PA utility rates, when considering normal heat losses due to each type of system. Surely, this has already been done as part of the city's cost analysis. Thanks!


Posted by BobH
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 29, 2022 at 11:37 am

BobH is a registered user.

Sounds interesting, but lots of details missing. For example:

What size of a water heater is this? Does it include adding a new circuit to the heater, and any electrical panel or service upgrades?

Note, I continue to think that the city's focus on gas heating is misguided. Transportation accounts for a lot more emissions than gas heating. The city should focus on make the city more EV friendly, like a lot more public chargers, subsidizing chargers in multi-family buildings, and rebates on EVs. That would reduce emissions a lot more than converting gas to electric.

Has the city switched the city owned vehicles to electric? Police cars?

As others have asked, what are they doing to upgrade the power distribution infrastructure?


Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Sep 29, 2022 at 12:33 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

Once upon a time I lived in a very sunny place where the setting sun faced directly at the little door on the patio where the water heater lived. I went on vacation during the summer but before leaving I turned the pilot off. When I got back, I went in to take a shower and had plenty of hot water. My mind wandered to ... "did I forget to turn off the water heater?" After dressing I went out and looked and sure enough, that water heater was turned off. I felt the tank, and it was as hot as it was when it was turned on. It was being heated by the sun. Long story short, why the emphasis on re-wiring a house when the placement of the water heater can give you hot water for free? Sure this means less hot water in winter or cloudy days. Still, a water heater stores much more water than I use in a day and trust me ... most everyone I knew during COVID lockdown wasn't showering or even changing clothes daily. Some of our basic needs can be met by adopting cave people methods without involving permits, contractors, etc. Shower when the weather provides you with enough hot water to do it with.

We are really spoiled as a society.


Posted by Marianne Mueller
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 29, 2022 at 12:45 pm

Marianne Mueller is a registered user.

before anyone goes to the trouble and expense of putting in a heat pump for water heating, I recommend considering how big of a heat pump would be needed to support both water heating and home heating/cooling, since if you’re going to put in a heat pump why not replace the gas furnace at the same time? Note that a heat pump used for heating can simultaneously be used for home cooling, which is handy in these days of increased and hotter heat waves. A few years ago I had to replace my gas furnace, and chose to put in a heat pump with the theory that it would be more environmentally friendly long-term, and I did have to add a new circuit, and I put in a model the support to in-house units, one for the main part of the house and one for one of two bedrooms, in retrospect I wish I had put in a larger heat pump they would also have supported an indoor unit in the second bedroom, so I recommend people consider all the uses for which they may want to use the heat pump and put in one of the appropriate size. The overall project was expensive but that included adding the new circuit, and adding a new gas furnace is also not that cheap. has anyone checked into whether this program also qualifies for federal rebates? Especially with the recent so-called inflation reduction act and its rebates for heat pumps.


Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of another community
on Sep 29, 2022 at 1:57 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

@MarianneMeuller I was just looking at LIHEAP (which is a federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) to see if any lower income households could get help with retrofitting or replacing their utility devices. It looks like it's possible but one has to apply for the assistance to find out if they qualify and for what type and how much they would contribute financially. The City should be finding out all of these things before proposing to demand consumers refit their homes to combat climate change. Not every Palo Altan is rich. In fact, there were options available during our recent heat wave that could have helped prevent outages. Web Link


Posted by Jim Hols.....
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 29, 2022 at 2:19 pm

Jim Hols..... is a registered user.

Palo alto must change how they charge for electricity before expecting folks to make capital investments in heaters, furnaces etc.
Currently, electric rates are tiered to encourage less use of electricity. I'll consider a heat pump when the electric rates are flat or compensation is given for less gas used. Also, verify the grid can handle electric increases.
Maybe put more money into future energy rather than continue with an unneeded costly scheme to provide fiber Internet 20 years too late. Both AT&T and xFinity services work well.


Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Sep 29, 2022 at 7:06 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

The city of "freedom." My kind of town!


Posted by Rose
a resident of Mayfield
on Sep 29, 2022 at 7:12 pm

Rose is a registered user.

I like that -- There is no Planet B. We need to invest in a healthy future on our planet, whatever it costs! Yes to Robert Neff's comments in the article: "Robert Neff, a longtime bike advocate, said he supports the heat pump program but criticized current plans for relying too much on buying new equipment. "The habit of just buying and consuming more stuff and consuming more energy is the fundamental source of this problem," he said. By contrast, focusing more on mobility and improving bike and pedestrian connections between homes and shopping centers would "make a positive transformation to living in Palo Alto," Neff said.

I would add that the City should improve and maintain the road conditions on all our major East/West and North/South bikeways as well as the bike routes to schools. Riding East across Churchill at Alma -- the bike lane is in terrible condition. We must keep our young people safe.

Thank you S/CAP and City Council for focusing on these existential problems.


Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 29, 2022 at 7:14 pm

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

Tell me. Why does a CC meet in closed session to discuss heat pump water heaters? More of taking straw to make hay. Pay as you go schemes just @don’t pencil out” CC!! Plus “it’s not in line with the character of the neighborhood” lol Just quit already. Raise taxes on R1Zone homeowners and truly watch the magic happen and really the City will flourish. You’ll be okay. Really.


Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Sep 29, 2022 at 7:28 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

They seem to be giving a contract to the installer without having to make a bid. Interesting.


Posted by Old PA Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 29, 2022 at 9:59 pm

Old PA Resident is a registered user.

Can I just throw out there that we have lots of sun and lots of backyards in Palo Alto. How about giving out laundry lines and clothespins? I virtually never use my (energy star) dryer. I have several drying racks, enough to dry king sized sheets. I really love the smell and feel of crisp clean clothes & linens, dried by the sun.


Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 29, 2022 at 10:05 pm

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

[Post removed]


Posted by Esther
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 29, 2022 at 10:29 pm

Esther is a registered user.

The San Francisco Chronicle says, "The Inflation Reduction Act signed by President Biden this year provides rebates for heat pumps. It offers a 30% tax credit up to $2,000 to anyone who installs a heat pump, as well as rebates up to $8,000 depending on income level. California offers a $3,000 rebate for heat pump installation in single-family homes through the Tech Clean California initiative, with more available depending on where you live. On top of that, local governments and utilities often offer their own incentives."
California will ban the sale of natural-gas heaters by 2030. This technology could replace them. Web Link
As always, consult your tax adviser.


Posted by Louise_Hansard
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 30, 2022 at 1:09 am

Louise_Hansard is a registered user.

Thanks for the article!


Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 30, 2022 at 1:14 am

Mondoman is a registered user.

I'm curious if in 2030, as now with 1.6gpf toilets, we could just drive over to Nevada to get a nice efficient gas heater.


Posted by Walter Sobchak
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 30, 2022 at 10:50 am

Walter Sobchak is a registered user.


Many of the initiatives being pushing by the “Save the Planet” climate activists remind me of Don’s Siegel’s classic 1956 film “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” in which a terrified population forced everyone to comply and undergo the process of becoming a “pod person.”


Posted by staying home
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 3, 2022 at 8:56 am

staying home is a registered user.

did my research, and will be moving to a HPWH when my current one needs replacement. Many of these environmental initiatives need a kick start to get the process going (recycling programs, car charging, solar panels for home). In full support.


Posted by N
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 3, 2022 at 12:47 pm

N is a registered user.

Just got two quotes for adding an EV charger, and both contractors (highly rated, licensed, etc) complained about Palo Alto permitting:

Contractor #1's quote has a $700 line item for permitting.

Contractor #2 said "Palo Alto is the worst city to work with, we won't do permits there ... Adding an EV with permits in Palo Alto is harder than building a house."

I looked into it to verify and indeed, our process is byzantine complex. In this day of supply chain shortages, they don't accept UL listing and amps for permitting, but insist on having the spec sheet of the exact model you plan to install. Oh, and you must have a full load calculation, and they threaten $10k liability to the city if the utilities aren't up to it.

All the city needs to know is the amps, UL listing status, and that a licensed contractor did the work. This is absolutely crazy.

PS. I'd love to electrify whenever possible, but Palo Alto permitting is adding 50% to the cost of the work (on top of super high local labor prices). This is insane.


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