As we switch as rapidly as we can to totally clean, renewable energy, we’ll be giving up use of the liquid and gas fuels that we have burned for the last century-there is no scalable substitute. The clean energy we can easily produce and deliver is electricity – which is great because electricity is the most versatile form of energy!
The transition from gasoline-powered vehicles to electric vehicles, and from gas-fired furnaces and water heaters to ways of heating our homes with electricity allows for a wide range of options for home heating and water heating using electricity.
Before replacing a furnace or water heater, the first thing to think about is how to keep and use the heat they will produce. For home heating, tighten up those draft-producing cracks- insulate (insulate! insulate!) and replace windows with modern double-paned versions. All these improvements have numerous advantages, making your home not only warmer in the winter but cooler in summer as well as much quieter and less dusty.
Hot water can be conserved by using a water-efficient shower head, aerators on sink faucets, and an efficient front-loading washing machine.
Heat Pumps vs Heaters:
What we’d like to describe here is a whole new concept in heating, the heat pump. The idea is that instead of using our renewable electricity to create heat inside the house, we use it to move heat from the outside to the inside. There is actually heat everywhere, though in the winter there just isn’t enough of it to be comfortable. A heat pump moves some of the heat from the outdoor air to the indoor space. This is a lot more efficient that producing the heat, like the old radiant heaters or baseboard heaters did (and like gas-fired furnaces currently do).
This is type of heat exchange is what we’re used to seeing in our refrigerators – the compressor pumps heat from inside the fridge to the outside. A heat pump works just the same way, pumping heat from outdoors to indoors. Actually, many heat pumps can be run in reverse if needed in the summer, pumping heat out of the house-but a well-insulated house in a temperate climate shouldn’t get uncomfortably hot in the summer – insulate! insulate!
The most common type of heat pump for home heating is the “mini-split”, and often consists of a part that mounts high on the inside wall or on the ceiling, and another part that goes outside. The two parts are connected through the wall by tubes containing a refrigerant, and a wire for power. They come with a remote control for setting the temperature and such. Locally you can see these at the San Geronimo Valley Cultural Center and many other locations.
Heat pumps are best suited for a climate exactly like ours here in California, as we experience mild winters, so the temperature difference they need to pump against is not too great. They can be many times more efficient than any other form of heating, and they always run on electricity so they can be 100% renewable.
For more on heat pumps check out this great article!
Keeping ahead of the curve:
As we do work on our buildings, we should future-proof them by planning for the use of electricity rather than natural gas. Make sure there is adequate service to the home, and that the service panel contains enough circuit breakers for extra future loads. An electric vehicle charger will be one of those future loads. Whenever working on the house, take the opportunity to bring wiring for 220 Volt, at 30-40 amp capacity, to the location where a charger would be.