Electrify Everything (Podcast)

In this “Electrify Everything” podcast, Brett Rogenski talks with John Maher about the whole home electrification trend. He explains why people are moving to electric, and then, he outlines tips and strategies for homeowners who are considering the jump.

John Maher: Hi, I am John Maher, and I’m here today with Brett Rogenski, General Manager of N.E.T.R., Inc: a heating and cooling company in Massachusetts with a focus on Mitsubishi ductless heating and cooling products. Today our topic is an overview of the concept of Electrify Everything. Welcome, Brett.

Brett Rogenski: Thanks for having me today, John.

The Growing Popularity of Whole Home Electrification

John: Sure. So Brett, just give me a little overview of what Whole Home Electrification is and why it’s gaining popularity.

Brett: Sure. That’s a great question. Whole Home Electrification ultimately means eliminating all the fossil fuel-based appliances and systems within your home. So eliminating things like, oh, natural gas furnaces, oil furnaces, even the moving of your vehicle to an electric vehicle, getting rid of gas cooking appliances, which are pretty common in moving to electric.

So it’s literally the electrification of all those systems, using electricity as your fuel source for all of those things. And there’s a few reasons it’s becoming popular.

Number one, decarbonization, as the world is becoming more and more aligned with the idea that we need to decarbonize the climate. So a lot of people want to participate in that and help with that.

Second, there’s a definite tie to air quality, especially indoor air quality. By eliminating those fossil fuel-burning items from your home, you can have a dramatic positive effect on indoor air quality.

And then really the third thing is incentivization. To achieve a lot of these things, whether we’re talking about an electric car or heating your home with a heat pump and everything else in between, there’s a lot of incentivization, both from the state and federal government now. So via Mass Save, through the Inflation Reduction Act federally, and other rebates and tax credits are available.

There’s a lot of great reasons to do this and let the government help you do it, as opposed to sometime in the future when they won’t be willing to subsidize it.

The Process of Whole Home Electrification

John: Right. So tell me a little bit more about some of the main appliances and systems in a typical home that can be electrified, and what energy sources are being replaced when we do that.

Brett: Sure. The very most common ones, the biggest sources of energy use in your home are your heating and cooling system for, as they would call it, space heating and cooling. So your furnace, okay? Your furnace, boiler, however you do that, and also the heating and cooling of water. So your hot water for your home. Those two sources combined exceed 60% in the average home.

And then there are other things. So the biggest target, if you do some Pareto analysis and go after the fewest number of things that’ll give you the most bang for the buck, it’s replacing your fossil fuel-burning heating system with something that is electric based, such as a heat pump, a mini-split.

That is certainly the first source. That allows you to heat and cool using nothing but electricity. You’re not using natural gas, you’re not using oil or any other fuel source. It’s strictly electricity, and it’s extremely efficient.

Same thing when you’re heating and cooling … I shouldn’t say cooling. When you’re heating water, it’s getting rid of, say, a gas-powered hot water heater. Those are very common. Again, now some people already have an electric hot water heater. There are ways to make that more efficient by moving to a heat pump hot water heater.

A heat pump hot water heater is exactly what it sounds like. It uses electricity. It draws heat from the ambient air temperature in the room and concentrates it and helps turn that into hot water.

So the two biggest things that people tackle first are their heating system and electrifying that by moving to a heat pump of some sort, which then allows you to heat and cool in the same system; as well as moving to an electric-source, usually a heat pump hot water heater.

I guess the next thing would actually be if you have a gas stove, gas cooking appliances and/or gas dryer: those would be the next-largest sources in your home that both affect the air quality and are fossil fuel-based. So pretty frequently people have either propane or natural gas cooking surfaces, as well as dryers in their home. Moving away from those and moving to electric versions of each of those.

Induction stoves are extremely popular now. They’re pretty cool and they do a great job, as well as highly efficient electric clothes dryers as well. So those are really the biggest sources in the home where you’re displacing fossil fuel and replacing them with an electric source alternative.

Is Electric Heat Efficient?

John: Okay. When I was growing up, I always heard that electric heat was always the least efficient or the most expensive form of heat compared to fossil fuels. You didn’t want those old baseboard electric heaters.

Tell me a little bit more about the technological advancements and innovations that have made a Whole Home Electrification more feasible, and like you said, more efficient in recent years.

Brett: Sure. Well, if you’re looking at heat pumps, heat pumps are very different from, as you said, your old electric baseboard heaters that someone may have had in their house. And those are still used in some spaces in houses. They’re a really effective way to heat certain areas that are difficult to heat otherwise.

But yeah, what heat pumps do, heat pumps are extremely efficient. The coefficient of energy to electric baseboards is 1:1. I’m giving you ratios. Whereas a gas furnace is 1:0.93, which basically means how efficient is it? It’s 93% efficient. Electric baseboard is 1:1 efficient. So it’s essentially 100% efficient.

The last part: when you start getting into heat pumps, because of how they work, they’re actually usually 3.5 to 3.9 per COE, which means that they’re triple the efficiency of an electric baseboard. And what that means to you at the end of the day is how they work.

So heat pumps do exactly what they say. Instead of moving air from a room to a heat source like a furnace … Think of a furnace. You’re drawing cool air from the room across the heat exchanger in a furnace. You’re warming that air, and now you’re pushing it back out through ducts into the home. There’s a lot of thermal loss there. But also you’re literally moving the air to the heat, transferring the heat into the air, and then pushing it back.

With a heat pump, we’re actually literally moving heat from one place to the other. So a heat pump, when it’s in its heating mode, is actually taking the small amount of heat that’s in the air outside; and heat pumps can heat to -13 degrees efficiently; they’re taking that heat, concentrating it into the refrigerant, moving the refrigerant to the head that’s inside that is heating or cooling a room, and then transferring that heat into the room, releasing it in.

So it’s far more efficient because we’re not moving all this air to a heat source, and then giving away part of the heat on the way back. We’re actually taking the heat right to where we want it and dumping it out in that room.

And it works in the opposite manner when you’re cooling, which is also what makes heat pumps extremely effective for air conditioning. You’re taking that heat in the room, it’s being concentrated into that head, then being brought outside and released “to the wild,” as I like to say. It’s being released outside. So those are some of the things that have changed.

Then the other thing that’s changed with heat pumps in the last, oh, 15 years or so… For instance, Mitsubishi has their Hyper Heat. So those are our cold climate heat pumps. So your grandpa’s heat pump did not work effectively in low temperatures. It wasn’t really designed to; it was built as an air conditioning system, predominantly.

Then they had some models that went down a little lower, so it could give you some supplemental heat in a space during the fall or in the spring where you didn’t want to run the furnace, but you needed a little extra warmth in that room. And you could do that.

Now, Hyper Heat systems are fully capable of providing all the heating in a home at 100% down to -13 degrees. And there are some systems out there that go even further, down to -22.

John: Wow.

Brett: Thinking about this in New England, sometimes we think of heat pumps as maybe a Southern thing: “Oh, that’s great if I live in North Carolina.”

No, no, no. Cold climate heat pumps are really built to support us here in New England. They’re tremendously popular in Scandinavia. And guess what? If you can keep Finland warm, you’ll be fine in New England.

Challenges to Whole Home Electrification

John: Absolutely. Yeah. Are there any limitations or maybe some challenges to implementing a Whole Home Electrification? Especially maybe in older homes or in regions with limited access to renewable energy sources?

Brett: Sure. So the first thing that you really should do from an efficiency point when we’re talking about an older home is you’re going to want to have a company come in. And if you’re part of the Mass Save process, they require this.

You’re going to have to have a home energy audit where they take a look at your home and they measure how efficient it is, and do the simple most cost-effective things first to tighten it up. So they seal the physical envelope, they basically get rid of all that draftiness. If you have the ability to add insulation in certain places, they’ll add insulation. They’ll do all that.

Again, through Mass Save, if you’re eligible, typically 80 to 90% of that cost is absorbed by Mass Save, and only 10 to 20% is passed on to the homeowner. So if you needed $5,000 worth of insulation and weather sealing, Mass Save is probably going to pay 4,000 to 4,500 of it, and you’re going to pay 500 to 1,000, which is a great return on your investment. So get that envelope tight, get your home as efficient as it can be.

And then the next challenge is… Well, obviously you need a proper design. You don’t treat every home the same. And we have tools where we do heat load calculations to help you do that.

One of the next challenges, particularly in New England relative to Whole Home Electrification, is a lot of our homes in New England are a little older. They weren’t built around the idea of heating everything, cooling everything, cooking everything, and doing that electrically. They were built around the concept of oil heat or gas heat and stuff.

So many of our homes may need an upgrade in how many amps of electrical capacity are coming to the home. That’s called a service upgrade. And what it is, many homes in New England have 100-amp breaker panels in them. So there’s 100 amps of electricity coming from the pole into the home.

That’s probably great when you’re heating with gas and you’re cooking with gas and maybe your gas dryer. Plus you’re running all the other systems in your home, your TV or lights. Now all of a sudden, if you’re going to move to an electric heat source; and you’re going to use an induction stove and you’re going to dry your clothes with electric; there’s just a lot more draw coming into your home. So oftentimes, homeowners have to look at upgrading that service.

At N.E.T.R., we can help you with that. We have our own in-house electrical staff of licensed electricians. Literally, service upgrades are something we do every single day. So we help turn that from the pole into your home from 100 amps to 200 amps. So we basically doubled your amount of electric capacity.

And then that usually also comes with, in most cases, a need to upgrade your breaker panel. So get that nice and modern as well, which actually usually gives you more options. It makes it more flexible.

That’s another thing that people have to look at is who do they choose to work with on Whole Home Electrification? Can they support not just the appliances that you will be implementing? Can they support you in getting your home ready and its infrastructure ready for Whole Home Electrification?

Incentives for Whole Home Electrification

John: You mentioned Mass Save. Does the government in general want to encourage people to move toward Whole Home Electrification? And are there any government policies and incentives in place to encourage that?

Brett: Sure, absolutely. For Whole Home Electrification, I’ll start at the state level with Mass Save.

For air source heat pumps, if you move your home to what’s called a whole home solution; which means your sole source of heating in your home is air source heat pumps; you’ll be eligible for a $10,000 rebate from Mass Save, as well as an 84-month zero-interest loan, assuming you’re credit qualified, which almost everyone is.

So you can, by moving away from a fossil fuel-based heating system in your home to an air source heat pump that heats your entire home, you’ll be eligible for a $10,000 rebate from Mass Save, as well as 84-month zero interest financing on that.

In addition to that, the Inflation Reduction Act, which is a federal program, long story short, it offers tax rebates, tax incentives where you can claim a tax credit of up to $3,000 for that whole home heating source as well.

So you can get your $10,000 from Mass Save, you can get an 84-month zero-interest loan on that improvement. And then when it’s time to do your taxes, you can claim a whole-home rebate up to $3,000 with the federal government. So it’s very highly supported.

First Steps to Whole Home Electrification

John: Okay. And for someone considering Whole Home Electrification, what are some of the initial steps and maybe some considerations that they should keep in mind?

Brett: Sure. Well, probably the initial step is working with a company that can support your full goal, both electrically and with those other utilities that you’re talking about. So it’s finding someone who can come in and actually help you design and run this project.

So the things that you’re going to want to think about when you look at Whole Home Electrification are, “Can I fully heat my home with air source heat pumps? Can I remove all of those fossil fuel-based items? What’s going to be required to do that from an electrical point of view and new wiring and that sort of thing to spots?” Obviously, you probably don’t have 240-volt wiring to your stove if it’s currently not electric. So working with someone to do that.

And then obviously there’s financial considerations. “What am I going to get for rebates? What am I going to get for tax credits? What about zero-interest or low-interest loans? What’s available to me there?” So those are all things that you’re going to want to consider.

And you’re going to want to work with someone who can kind of act as your… maybe not quite a general contractor, but a coordinator for all of those services to help get you there.

Many people who approach us on that and that we work with, part of their next goal or part of their goal is to say, “Hey, I’m also going to put solar on my rooftop to help fuel all of this. I’m going to save a bunch of money by doing this, and I’d like the sun to power part of it.” So it’s also working with a company that can help you have relationships there.

Another part of that is when people tell us that they eventually plan to use solar integrated with this electrification, that’s really important to let us know upfront. Because it may affect how we design your system, so you can maximize taking advantage of that solar system as well.

Solar Panels and Whole Home Electrification

John: Maybe using the least amount of electricity as possible while still achieving your goals, that sort of thing.

Brett: Exactly. And sometimes, for instance, solar batteries are a tremendous boon. But they do have some limitations out there. So if we know that eventually you’re going to go solar and that you are going to have a battery there; instead of having one very large heat pump system in taking care of your whole home, which is a great solution, not a problem, we may end up suggesting that you kind of break your home into two zones and do it with two smaller systems.

Costwise, it’ll probably be roughly the same. But in the event of a long-term power outage and you’re now relying on a battery which has been fueled by solar, you’re probably not going to be able to run that giant system for a long, long time. Whereas you would be able to run a smaller system for an extended period of time.

So again, it’s all just stuff that if you know that you’re going down that road, talk to us about it. And we can help you design a solution that you’re going to be happiest with and enjoy the most, and be most comfortable.

Contact N.E.T.R. to Learn More About Whole Home Electrification

John: All right, well that’s really great information, Brett. Thanks again for speaking with me today.

Brett: Thank you so much for having me.

John: And for more information, you can visit the N.E.T.R. website at netrinc.com, or call 781-933-NETR. That’s 781-933-6387.