Two Easy Things To Cut Your Home Heating Bill and CO2

Home heating turns out to be a huge impact environmentally, heating a 2000sq foot home in the Seattle area can commonly range from $500-1700/year and 7000-17000lbs of CO2 annually. Needless to say modest improvements in efficiency can have major impacts.

While there’s huge, expensive projects you can undertake to cut these factors, there’s two simple things we did which cut our impact roughly by a quarter.

Below is a picture of our “new” (1980s) home gas use (we’re the blue line). In October things started to cool off here and you’ll notice we were running at the same gas use of an “efficient” neighbor, but since then we did just the two improvements below and now use 26% less natural gas than an “efficient” neighbor.

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Greener Home Heating

Home heating turns out to be an incredibly complex and regional issue – how much heating is needed, the practicality of heat pumps, and grid energy emissions vary significantly in the US. Not to forget your home variables – what services are available, ducting, current system efficiency, etc. Given that keep in mind there’s no one answer that works everywhere.

While home heating a complex and fairly mundane topic it deserves a lot of attention – some back of the napkin math suggests home heating and cooling in America is responsible for at least half a trillion pounds of CO2 annually.

We’re going to look at the three main categories of heating systems – electric resistive heaters, heat pumps, and gas furnaces.

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Wait on Solar in Washington…But Not Too Long

Anyone who’s talked to me knows I’m nuts about solar power. Its cost effective, environmentally friendly, and kinda fun with the app monitoring.

Having said that now isn’t the best time to go solar. The current Washington State solar incentives have run dry – but they may soon return given Inslee’s new “green deal.”

On the flip side its also worth note 2019 is the last year for the federal 30% tax credit – 2020 drops to 26%, 22% in 2021, then after that it disappears for residential installs. Given that solar gets cheaper every year waiting a year or two might not hurt – but missing out on any rebate could cost you more.

So keep an eye out for the follow up post, the next great window for solar deals should be coming soon!

Hybrid Water Heaters Part 2

I wrote once before about hybrid water heaters but figured a follow up was in order given we installed one in our new (to us) home.

We removed an 80 gallon electric tank which was oversized for our needs and was making for big energy bills – the energyguide label estimated 4773 kWh annually, or nearly $500 a year to run. To put this amount of power into context, that same amount of power would run a compact EV for nearly 20,000 miles. Pretty crazy how much energy it takes to make hot water.

We ended up getting the Rheem hybrid hot water tank which is Energyguide estimated to use 1341 kwh annually – or about $135/year.

The hybrid water heater does this with a heat pump – it moves ambient energy (heat) into the water. The system is called a hybrid because it can still use traditional heating elements to fulfill high water demand.

But they can be even cheaper…

Energyguide ratings are based on hybrid mode. But if you can run the system in heat pump only mode you can push the power use even lower – so far we’re averaging about half the estimated power use in heat pump only mode. In case you wonder how I’d know that – the tanks have an app which reports usage. Yes, that means hot water for about $84/year on grid energy. But it’s even less for us (about $30/year) since we have solar power!

Now I’ll admit there are a few catches. The unit must either be placed in an unheated space like a garage or vent to such a space. That space must be at least 37 degrees (warmer is better) and be at least 300 SQ feet. You also need a drain or pump for the condensate.

Probably the biggest challenge is the plumbing – most tanks connect water on top but hybrids do the side because the heat pump is on top. That definitely increases the effort of install as well as requiring a bit more space.

The cost, rebates, and benefits

You’ll find 50 gallon hybrids at the big box stores for about $1300 retail, $1000 on sale. I hit up a plumbing supply for mine and got a couple hundred off retail. Be sure to check with your utility for rebates – PSE paid me a $500 rebate.

While you can easily pick up an electric tank heater for $400, at about $380/year to run a new 50 gallon conventional electric tank its easy to see that over the life of the tank you’ll save thousands in operating costs, easily justifying the up front cost of the hybrid tank.

Electric TankHybrid Tank
Purchase Cost$400$1000-1300
Rebate (PSE)$0-$500
10 Year Energy Cost$3800$840-1340
10 Year Estimated TCO$4200$1340-2140
10 Year Estimated CO2
(PSE power)

Should I Switch from Gas to Hybrid Hot Water?

This is a tough one. Gas tanks are fairly cost effective to buy and operate. Switching to a hybrid means new electrical wiring which depending on your home can be quite expensive.

From an environmental standpoint I found one study that said an average gas tank will lead to about 2000lbs of CO2 annually. A hybrid heater using PSE power should run between 850-1340lbs annually – a modest savings of CO2. On the flip side in the Midwest where coal power is heavily used you’re not likely to have any CO2 savings doing hybrid vs gas.

Really the big win is using solar power with the hybrid tank in which case you’re basically at zero emissions. But short of that its hard to justify switching from gas to hybrid electric hot water.

Bottom Line

Hybrid hot water heaters are the real deal as far as lowering hot water cost and environmental impact when replacing a conventional electric hot water tank. For those with natural gas tanks unless you’re planning on going solar, its a tough sell.

All About Home Battery Storage

What is Home Battery Storage?

Basically these are battery packs like used in EVs but for your home power. They can be used with or without solar, but the rebates only apply when used with solar.

Will Home Battery storage save me money?

It depends on your utility! For example if your utility charges time-of-use rates you can use the battery to run your house during high rate hours then charge the battery off-peak hours. Also if your utility doesn’t offer solar net metering it allows you to take full advantage of the solar power you generate.

But at least for major Western Washington utility users (PSE, Seattle City Light, and Tacoma Power) these aren’t a concern.

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Your Lawnmower Is Trying To Kill You

Okay yes the title is a bit of hyperbole, but gas powered lawn equipment isn’t just horrible for the environment, but also the health of the operator.

Gas powered lawn equipment differs from gas powered cars in a few major areas:

  • They lack the advanced emissions controls of a car
  • Some are two-stroke which are far dirtier
  • You’re standing right in the exhaust, rather than being in a cabin with filtered air

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The CO2 Impact of Meat is Exaggerated

While I love EWG’s information on body care and household products, I think they misrepresent the impact of meat on their meat eaters guide.

The crux of the problem as I see it is they measure CO2 output per kilogram of food. But the need for nutrition isn’t measured in kilograms but rather calories. And lets face facts you’re not getting your fat or protein from a tomato or vitamin c from beef. Once you’ve met your macro-nutrient needs certainly you can exchange an egg for a tomato, but you can’t live on low CO2 tomatoes alone. Continue reading