By Anne Kramer
Sustainability is my passion. I work in corporate sustainability and try to live as sustainably as possible. Until a year ago, this largely meant recycling, minimizing waste, and using reusable bags. Yet, my eyes were recently opened by the nonprofit Electrify Now to the biggest culprit of my carbon footprint: burning fossil fuels for energy. Along with learning about this overwhelming problem, I feel fortunate to have learned about one of the primary solutions: Electrify Everything. Like seeing the FedEx arrow, once I knew that fact, I couldn’t unknow it. Until I eliminated my reliance on fossil fuels, I felt like a hypocrite: how could I advocate for others to make low-carbon products when there was more I could do to reduce my personal carbon footprint? Luckily, this knowledge came at the same time I bought my first house — an 1896 Victorian with lots of charm that needed some serious remodeling. I vowed that my house would be all electric, and ASAP.
Fortunately for me, my real estate agent used to work in energy efficiency and had multiple energy conscious connections, including to my contractor, Andrew. As soon as I hired Andrew, I told him about my whole house electrification goals. Andrew used my Home Energy Score (a requirement for all homes sold in Portland which gives a buyer an idea on how efficiently the home uses energy) as a starting place. Unlike most old homes that score 3/10 (!), my house was already 6/10 due to a recently installed electric water heater and wall insulation. Andrew and I worked together to determine our plan and priority for our new home: floor insulation, electric heat pump heating & cooling, and, finally, an induction stove.
Now, to cost. I set an overall budget for my home remodel. When I shared it with Andrew, I told him that this amount had to include the full cost of electrification. He estimated our three priorities would cost a total of $18,000: $3,000 for insulation, $10,000 for electric heat pump heating & cooling, $3,000 for the electric stove, and $2,000 as a buffer. Having this early estimate helped me make different decisions down the road to lower the cost of other parts of my remodeling (i.e., selecting cheaper bathroom fixtures and countertop). With a budget and a plan, our electrification project began.
Insulation: this was the easiest because Andrew handled everything. My hardwood floors are old and given how much the boards gap, Andrew recommended foam insulation. While foam is more expensive ($3,000) than a fiberglass option alone ($1,500), Andrew assured me it would provide more effective air seal as well as insulation. He added that a better air seal meant better comfort and would lower my utility bills. I went for the foam option.
Heating & Cooling: I called two local companies and scheduled an initial home consultation from The Heat Pump Store named Todd. Todd and I talked through what kind of system to get (ducted vs. ductless), how many splits/machines to get, where to place them, what additional electric work would be needed, and cost. I went with a ductless mini-split system because my existing ducts were full of dust — gross and no thank you to the extra work needed to clean! I hated the ugly ducts that my gas furnace required and this was my excuse to permanently remove them! As I was already planning to refinish the floors, I worked with Andrew to ensure all the ducts were removed and the floor patched, which included some additional tile work in the kitchen. With a 10% discount, the total cost came to $9,075, including install. Exactly what Andrew had predicted. I put Todd directly in touch with Andrew who coordinated the electric wiring in tandem with my remodeling. Two months later, and just in time for the hottest days of the summer, I had efficient electric heat pumps for heating and cooling.
Stove: my parents switched to electric induction a few years ago, so I already knew the wonder of boiling water in under a minute. My pots are All-Clad or cast iron, so I had no concerns about cookware compatibility (with induction stoves, you need magnetic cookware). I shopped online prioritizing: the number of burners (5), low profile (i.e., completely level with the counter-top), and the same size as my gas stove. I went with the GE Profile 30’’ Induction for $2,700. Frustratingly, the stove could not be installed at the time of delivery since, according to the delivery guys, “they can’t touch the gas line.” Well done on that lobbying, gas industry. After a quick call to Andrew and a visit from the electrician, I had my new induction stove hooked up.
All told, this came almost exactly to the $18,000 Andrew estimated, given additional work needed to replace the floor ducts and electrician visits.
Now came the most satisfying part: removing gas forever. I called my local gas utility NW Natural and asked for my gas line not just to be capped but asked for the line to be entirely removed from my property. They calmly said that would take a visit from a few engineers, but that they would send a team in a few weeks. I was out of town when this ultimately happened, but I still savored knowing that (not without serious effort) gas was unlikely to flow to my house ever again. Better for the planet, better for reducing indoor pollution and for my health.
As an EV owner, I will eventually add an electric charger to my house. Andrew and my electrician helped me understand that this will require a significant breaker box upgrade. This upgrade is expensive (~$6,000) as is the charger install (~$3,000). I’m crossing my fingers that our government, utilities, and/or car manufacturers will soon offer incentives for these upgrades that will help lessen the cost burden.
In summary, here are my 4 lessons learned in my whole home electrification:
1. Your contractor is key. They need to have a working understanding of how upgrading your gas home to electric will come together. It’s important that they know your goals from the start of the project.
2. Set a budget at the beginning, remembering to give yourself a buffer. Electrification means removing and adding machines and potentially wiring to your house that may require additional work to complete. Budget that in!
3. There’s lots of variety out there for all these electrification upgrades. Pick what matters most to you. I went with more expensive insulation because full air sealing mattered to me.
4. Once you’re done, call your gas company and ask for your line to be removed. They have to do this by law and it feels great.
Anne Kramer has worked in Sustainable Innovation at Nike for 3 years and is currently an Integration Manager where she supports the footwear innovation team to minimize the environmental impact of all new products. Prior to Nike, Anne spent 5 years in strategy consulting in the healthcare industry, including at the Gates Foundation, graduated with her MBA from Berkeley–Haas in 2018, and graduated with a degree in Biology from Columbia University in 2011. For the past year she volunteered with Electrify Now and helped fundraise and strategize for Electrify Everyone, a partnership with the Community Energy Project that replaces inefficient gas water heaters with electric heat-pumps for low-income Portland families.