Project Type: Residential Retrofit
System Type: Hybrid Electric Hot Water Heater, Induction Stove, Electrical Service Upgrade, Solar PV Array
Contractor(s): SBS Solar, Plumb-Tech Plumbing and Heating (Hybrid Electric Hot Water Heater), Pete's Electric (Upgrade electrical service from 100 to 200 amps, install circuit for new hot water heater), Fred's Appliances (Frigidaire induction range)
Besides the solar upgrade, their recent project included upgrading the home’s electrical service from 100 to 200 amps, swapping a natural gas hot water heater that was due for replacement with a hybrid electric one (a Rheem 50-gallon ProTerra hybrid electric hot water heater, recommended by the contractor), and replacing an electric range with an induction range. Today, the existing natural gas furnace is the only appliance that’s not electric.
With the help and prompting from friends at Climate Smart, and an array of contractors, (more than half a dozen!), they completed their project on time and on budget. Bert commented that the biggest barrier “was simply getting up the gumption to face all of the tasks required to complete the project we envisioned.” This isn’t the first time we’ve heard from homeowners about the sometimes overwhelming and complex web of decision-making that comes with retrofitting and upgrading to electric appliances. If you’re interested in upgrading to electric systems and aren’t sure where to start, we’ve outlined a few key considerations on our "resources for homeowners" page.
In terms of financing, Bert and Kristi were comfortable with the fact that the new solar panels would pay for themselves over the next decade or two, assuming that "net metering" remains in place. They did have to both upgrade their electrical system and seal the natural gas supply before converting their natural gas hot water heater to electric, which added cost on top of the upfront cost of the new water heater ($1,500). All said and done, the new hot water heater with its additional installation costs makes for a long, if not unresolvable, payback period however; however, they have not paid for electricity since their solar installation was upgraded this spring!
They had originally planned to complete the project using their savings, but ultimately decided to take advantage of the MT Dept. of Environmental Quality’s Alternative Energy Revolving Loan Program. They also received federal tax credits for the 2021 tax year.
As for the induction range, Bert says they chose a Frigidaire model because “it was thousands of dollars cheaper than competing brands and because one became available on short notice.” Induction ranges typically have to be ordered, and they can take months to arrive.
Choosing a location for the new hot water heater was relatively straightforward: “It went right where the natural gas water heater had gone in our basement. Our basement is entirely open, is unheated, and has no one living in it. There’s plenty of room to draw air into the water heater’s heat pump and there’s no one nearby to be disturbed when the fan goes on.” Their basement temperature maintains a steady temperature between 50-55 degrees which helps performance in the winter.
And for Homeowners looking to do something similar?
“Decide what you’re trying to accomplish, the best means to do so, and move ahead. Remember, the changes you make to your home aren’t just for you. They will probably be in place for the lifetime of your home. The environment will benefit for generations, even though your personal benefits may just be for a few years until you sell your home.” - Bert Lindler and Kristi DuBois
Project Type: Residential Retrofit
System Type: Ground-Source Heat Pump
Contractor: New Era Plumbing and Heating
Local Missoula residents, Tim Skufca and Marta Meengs, recently began the process of switching out their gas furnace for a ground-source heat pump. Their goal is to eventually become completely independent from natural gas! From navigating funding sources to dealing with mouse-poop ductwork, Tim and Marta decided to take on a system retrofit that would benefit them, future residents, and the environment in the long-run. Read through the Q&A to learn more about their ongoing project, experience, and advice for Missoulians looking to make the switch.
1). What initially prompted you to make the switch to an electric system?
Both the need to replace the outdated furnace AND the desire to completely disconnect from natural gas.
2). What resources helped you along the way?
A plumber friend and a ground-source guru (Marc Hauger, New Era Plumbing and Heating) explained the system to us, he designed it and built it.
3). What were some of the barriers you ran into?
The cost is certainly an issue, but with a great government loan program (low rate) and a 30% tax rebate (in 2021) it made it a little bit easier, especially factoring in the cost of a new furnace that we needed to do anyway.
4). What sort of funding resources did you take advantage of?
There was a federal loan program* that offered a maximum of $40,000 at a <4% interest rate. We borrowed the entire $40,000 (which helped renovate our kitchen, and installed in-floor hydronic heat, drilled a well, and reconfigured the entire mechanical system of the house).
*Note: We believe that this is actually a loan program through DEQ, not a federal loan program.
5). Did you consider the payback period of your system (long-term vs. short-term costs)?
The R.O.I. (return on investment) only makes sense on a long-term basis. When we installed the ground-source system we didn't expect an energy cost savings. Our electric bill increased, but the gas side of the NorthWestern bill was gone! It took a month for NW Energy to come out to our house and lock the gas line, otherwise we still were charged certain gas fees. HOWEVER, since installing the 25 solar panels (2 years ago), we have not paid NorthWestern ANYTHING!! But, again, even considering zero energy payments, Marta and I will probably be dead before those savings equal the cost of getting this house to net-zero. This is key: one does not strive for net-zero for energy-cost savings. The cost does not pencil out. The REAL reason is to do it for the house. We recently moved out of that house and are renting it. Those renters pay nothing for their power, as will all generations to come.
6). Did you apply for any rebates or financial incentives through your utility?
We just learned that there is a ground-source incentive via NorthWestern Energy, and we are certainly going to tap into this for our current project.
7). Did you see any change reflected on your utility bill?
Not much change until we installed solar panels two years ago. Since then there have been negligible payments to NorthWestern Energy.
8). To what extent are you tying your system to on-site solar?
Our ultimate goal is to be off-grid. We are waiting until the battery technology gets a bit better.
9). Did you pair your electric system with “smart” controls (ie. programmable thermostat)?
We have a "Nest" thermostat, which can do WAY MORE than we will ever tap into.
10). Has your ground source heat pump affected your household’s thermal comfort?
The comfort comes from converting from gas forced-air furnace to in-floor heat. Having the floor warm allows the thermostat to be much lower in the winter. With a furnace, the temperature fluctuates from too warm to too cold all day long. Hydronic heat levels this out. PLUS!, in the summer we chill the floor by circulating the well water temperature through the floors, thus extracting heat from the rooms.
11). What is the make/model of the system you chose? Why did you choose this
ground source heat pump over others?
The system was designed and installed by New Era Plumbing, we had no input on the design.
12). Was the existing ductwork/HVAC infrastructure compatible with your heat pump?
We tore out all the old, mouse-turd infected ducts. THEY WERE GROSS!
13). How well does your system perform in the winter?
14). What kind of permit was required? Did you find the permitting process slow or hard to navigate?
We had to get a permit to drill the well, which was relatively easy. I think the Health Department enjoys something odd to consider, and therefore were quite helpful.
15). What advice would you give to Missoula residents looking to install a similar system?
Consider the house more than the pocket book when deciding to remove the gas line. Gas furnaces keep being the go-to heat system because gas is so cheap. Until this changes it is hard to justify converting when you just are thinking about dollars. The environment trumps the dollar in our minds.
16). Is there anything else you'd like to add?
I just wanted to add a few points. One, even after we placed the solar panels, we still pay service fees to Northwestern Energy (about 4 dollars/month but will probably get increased in the future). Another point is that we are tied to the grid and there is still a net metering program in place. If Northwestern Energy eliminates the net metering credit (something they have tried to do every year), then we would not receive the credit obtained in the sunnier months to help us pay for the winter, less sunnier months. Keeping net metering credit is essential for solar panel cost pay back. One more point is that switching to radiant floor heat surprised me in that it kept the house so much more comfortable, even keeping the thermostat at 66 degrees in the winter, not drafty like forced air heat. Just my two cents worth!