Type of Project: Retrofit
Type of building: Single family residential
Financing used: DEQ Alternative Energy Revolving Loan Fund
When Jeremy Nichols decided to add on to his home, the decision to go all-electric felt like a no-brainer. Jeremy works on climate and energy for a national conservation nonprofit, and feels it’s important to not just fight for needed policy changes but also take action in his personal life as much as he can.
Suffice to say, Jeremy had been dreaming about getting off of gas entirely for a while, and the house addition was his chance to go all in.
Some steps towards his all-electric quest were easier, like swapping out his gas water heater for a hybrid heat pump-electric one.
But figuring out all-electric heat was a bit trickier.
He had a 20-year-old, gas-fired hydronic boiler system, with underfloor heating on the bottom floor and baseboard radiators upstairs. Originally, Jeremy looked into air-to-air heat pumps & mini-split options, but those would have required keeping the gas boiler as backup - something he was determined to avoid.
So he did some research and, after some googling and phone calls, he had a promising lead on an air-to-water heat pump system, designed to operate in cold climates. Bingo! The company was Arctic Heat Pumps, and their closest local rep, Todd, was in Bozeman. When Jeremy called him up, Todd happened to know of a Missoula contractor who had installed these kinds of systems before - Marc Hauger at New Era Plumbing and Heating. Marc ended up doing the system design and installation. Luckily, there was space to mount the heat pump outside and expand the utility closet inside. The heat pump is technically rated to operate down to external temperatures of -15 degrees F, but Jeremy did opt to install an on-demand electric backup, though he doesn’t anticipate having to use it more than a handful of times a year.
There are some differences when it comes to operating a hydronic heat pump system. The water temperature maxes out around 120 degrees, versus a typical gas boiler system that can get up to 180. That means you don’t want too much variability between the temperatures it’s set at over the course of the day (smaller “setbacks,” in energy efficiency lingo), so that the system runs more consistently and doesn’t have to work as hard to heat and cool. This improves efficiency and helps maintain consistent temperatures inside the home. Jeremy found he also needed to replace his old baseboard radiators with modern European-style ones; these have more surface area which makes it possible to harness the full heating ability of lower water temps.
With the big item of heating checked off his electrification list, Jeremy kept going. He swapped his old gas range for an induction one, which he loves. Since his home would be using a lot more electricity, he decided to go solar too; his system was installed with the goal of covering 100% of the home’s annual electricity needs. And as the house was under construction anyway, it made sense to add a bunch of insulation to the upstairs level.
Finally, the day came when Jeremy turned off the gas to his home for good - and removed the meter too, just for good measure.
One bonus of the new heat pump? It can also cool. Jeremy doesn’t anticipate needing to use this feature much, since the bulked-up insulation should keep the house from getting too hot. But it’s a great option for wildfire smoke season when he doesn't want to open windows to cool down.
Jeremy’s advice? You don’t have to go all the way if you want to go electric - you can go step by step, and it will look different for everyone. The more people take steps, the easier it will be for everyone else.
Jeremy is honest about the unknowns of this project - particularly financially. He is confident that it will pay off in the long term, but he won’t know whether it will save money in the short term until going through a couple of seasons with the new systems in place. Regardless, it’s been worth it to be able to walk the walk when it comes to his values.
As Jeremy put it, “My job is to try to put the fossil fuel industry out of business. We do that through policy and litigation, but it’s nice to make some personal choices that have an impact, too.”