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How and Why to Make a Plan to Electrify Your Life

Published on 10/8/2022
There’s a lyric by The National that reads, “I still owe money to the money I owe,” a nod to the slog of ditching debt. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could save serious coin on our monthly bills? Even nicer, to save money on the changes required to shave hundreds of our heating, cooling, and transportation bills.  The Inflation Reduction Act aims to help Americans electrify their lives by offering quite a few rebates and tax breaks- up to $14,000, depending on your income. It sounds nice, but is it doable, especially for the households making only eighty percent of the state’s median income (about $53,500 dollars)? 

Maybe the correct starting place is “Why?” Why should we electrify our homes and cars? Climate change, yes, but let’s not factor out sensible, personal reasons, like making durable investments when it’s time to buy a new water heater, car, or HVAC system. Health and comfort also matter. For instance, electrifying our stoves and ovens reduces methane leakage in our homes. A 2021 Stanford University study estimated that 2.4 million tons of methane from gas stoves alone is leaking into homes. We’re paying the hidden costs. Methane pollutes the air we breathe at home, increases cancer rates, damages the nervous system, and increases asthma. Electrifying our HVAC, dryers, and water heaters will eliminate the nearly 13 million metric tons of natural gas leakage that occurs as it’s being transported to our homes. 

You can also save those greenbacks, which for many people meets an emotional need for security, as well as provides for other needs, but investing in some of this new technology has a higher upfront cost. Heat pump-based water heaters cost over a thousand dollars more than a standard electric water heater, so how can households justify the upfront costs? Partially with the rebate, which is up to $1,750 for a heat pump water heater. Also, Energy Star estimates that you can save $350 annually because heat pumps use so little fuel. But prioritizing the now versus the long term requires stoic logic, and humans are not Vulcans. 
We make decisions more on emotion than we often admit. If we are to achieve this switchover and take advantage of the incentives, it may help to take Nate Adam’s approach. Adam is the author of Electrify Everything. He recommends beginning with a personal assessment of your goals, starting with your emotional goals.

Start with a timeline of what will need to be replaced. If your home is old and doesn’t have proper stove ventilation, replaced your gas oven and stove. Induction cooktops and newer electric ovens cook and bake faster and won’t set off your carbon dioxide monitor. The IRA offers up to $840 for an electric stove, cooktop, range, or oven; or an electric heat pump clothes dryer. Like, hot water heaters, these have shorter lifetimes than HVAC systems and are more affordable to replace. 
Next consider comfort. Are there parts of the home you avoid because it’s too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter? Do you notice pests, molds, and mildew? How much does noise influence your choice of appliances?

“This is not about the latest whatever but ‘Holy crap! This house is comfortable,” Adams says. Your best bet is to begin with an energy audit. The IRA includes a tax break of up to $300 to hire an auditor. The goal is to tighten up your home before appliances and HVAC systems need to be replaced that way you’ll be able to install smaller units and maintain greater savings.
What is involved in “tightening up your home?” An auditor should look at water leakage and usage via faucets, pipes, dishwashers, and old toilets. They’ll also help identify why some areas of your home are never the optimal temperature. Is the cause due to energy loss from old windows and doors, poor insulation, or actual holes in your infrastructure? If you notice pests, mold, and mildew, most likely your home needs work and that work will almost immediately improve your family’s health and help save you money. Replacing old technology with the latest won’t be efficient without ensuring insulation and leakage have been eliminated. Incentives for those include up to $4,000 for a breaker box upgrade, up to $1,600 for insulation, air sealing, and ventilation, and up to $2,500 for electric wiring. The Act also created a second rebate program, which would pay households between $2,000 and $8,000 for upgrades to lower their energy waste by 35%, such as new insulation or air sealing. 

Once those items are square, then you can focus on HVAC, the most complex system in your home. Your needs and options will intersect with your region, climate, and home configuration, so it’s best to work with a forward-thinking HVAC contractor. Incentives include up to $8,000 for a heat pump for space heating or cooling

Bear in mind that the IRA incentives last for the next decade. There is time to take advantage of them. In the meantime, solarizing can make you some money. 

Though Crawfordsville city residents can take pride in the amount of electricity generated from solar, League Climate Team member John Smilie still recommends solarizing. “With the 30% tax credit and net metering with CELP your rate of return is nearly 9% post-tax, which is better than the stock market. This depends upon having either a suitable roof (the key is unshaded southern exposure) or suitable space for a ground mount system.” 

Solarizing also strengthens a community’s power grid. As the USA scales up, households with panels and a storage battery will contribute to the overall stability of the power grid. Princeton Engineering professor and author of the Netzero America Report Jesse Jenkins told Ezra Klein that the USA needs to double its electric infrastructure to meet the demand that will come with our national goal to have net zero emissions by 2050. Solarizing your home can help.

If your home is not due for updates, the last area to tackle is your car. Electric vehicles have fewer parts, last longer, and cost less in maintenance and fuel. The IRA offers some rebates for plug-in cars. For example, you can get at least 4500 dollars for any plug-in Prius Prime from 2017 to 2022. Incentives for new cars are more stringent because they are meant to build up the US  automobile pipeline.

There’s plenty to learn and you are invited to Lunch with the League on Friday, October 7 at noon at Fusion 54’s third floor