Written by Homeowners Ted Catton & Diane Krahe
When our methane gas (aka natural gas) furnace gave up the ghost in March 2021, we knew it was time to transition our house to electric heat. We live in a small Craftsman-style house in the slant streets. Previous to the furnace going out, we had improved our house’s insulation, replaced old windows, and, in 2018, we installed nine solar panels on the southwest-facing roof. But the solar power that is generated from our rooftop solar array is only enough to cover our electrical appliances, lights, and plug-ins. We knew that home heating is the big one for home energy use, and wondered what our electrical home heating options were and how many more solar panels we would need to power the system.
Little did we imagine that we would talk to about a dozen different installers before finding the right one, or that we would need to do so much research for ourselves, or that we would go through the next winter without a major heat source in the house!
That last point is our bottom line. Skeptics told us that we did not have enough rooftop for all the solar panels that would be needed to heat our house by electricity. But after one full winter of running the system with electricity purchased from Northwest Energy, we now know how much juice it takes. Another row of solar panels will take care of it.
The first thing we learned in this process was that just about every industry rep you talk to wants to sell you a new natural gas furnace. Any installer will discuss clean-energy alternatives with you, but they will advocate for what is most economical, or what is most comfortable, not what is sustainable. So you learn a lot from them but you also have to do a lot of your own research and figuring (and advocating).
The next thing we learned is that the heat pump technology comes in many varieties so you have to learn the ins and outs of ductless systems, inverter technology, air handlers, mini-splits, BTUs, kilowatt hours, and more.
We have a natural gas insert in our fireplace in the living room. We are keeping this for its aesthetics and as an emergency backup heat source. (We made it through the winter of 2021-22, the winter we were transitioning between systems, by closing off half our house and relying on this source to keep the living room and kitchen comfortably warm. For December and January, we moved all the house plants into the living room and rented another place to live.) Besides the insert, we still have a natural gas water heater. When it wears out, we will replace it with an electric one.
We are learning to live with thermostats set at the same temperature all around the clock and with warm air coming out of the heat vents at about 100º F rather than 130º F. Instead of a growly furnace in the basement, now we occasionally hear a whoosh from the Freon gas shooting through the lines when it is very cold outside and the outdoor unit enters the defrost cycle. We were concerned about how much outdoor noise pollution the outdoor unit would make. It is quite minimal. We feel that changing our home heating system from natural gas to electric was something we simply had to do and we are pleased with the results.