0 - The All Electric Home – Make a Plan!
Electrify Brookline | How-To Guide #0
Would you like your home to be comfortable, healthy, and climate friendly? You can achieve this with an all-electric home, replacing your gas appliances with energy-efficient electric alternatives. This series of How-To Guides provides information to help you plan your path of electrification to improve the health of your family and to preserve a livable climate.
The greenhouse gasses that cause climate change come from many sources – transportation, buildings, industry, agriculture, etc. In Massachusetts, according to the Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2025 and 2030 (page 7), buildings account for more than a quarter of our state’s emissions, with residential buildings accounting for 19%. Because Brookline is a more urban environment with people walking and taking public transit, and only a small commercial sector, our residential buildings are likely responsible for closer to one half of our town’s total emissions! The good news is that renters, condo-owners, homeowners and landlords can all take actions to reduce emissions from our homes.
Emissions from residential buildings in Massachusetts come from burning fossil fuels – oil, gas and propane – for heating, hot water, cooking and clothes drying. The emissions from your home can be hard to see, but they contribute to climate change and also create harmful pollution, including inside your home. The pie chart shows the percentage of household energy use in Massachusetts.
Fossil fuels are hydrocarbon fuels extracted from the earth, including natural gas, coal and petroleum products like heating oil, propane and gasoline. When fossil fuels are burned, they release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing significantly to climate change.
Decarbonization means the process of reducing or ending our use of these hydrocarbon-based fossil fuels.
Electrification goes hand in hand with Decarbonization, as we will need to electrify all of our appliances and systems, replacing fossil fuel based equipment with all-electric models.
The recently published Massachusetts 2050 Decarbonization Roadmap (page 51) includes an ambitious near-term goal of the complete electrification of one million homes across the state by 2030. In addition to individual actions, the massive scale of this effort will require systemic change – policy changes, financial support, technical assistance, job training, and utility transitions to enable ALL homes to access clean renewable energy systems.
The Roadmap outlines an approach to reach the Commonwealth's decarbonization goals through four straightforward efforts:
- Reduce Energy Demand
- Use 100% Renewable Electricity
- Electrify Everything
- Sequester Carbon
Brookline households can take actions in their homes to address the first three of these efforts.
Whether you live in an apartment, a condo, or a single family home; whether you are a home-owner, condo-owner, landlord, or tenant, we can all reduce our use of fossil fuels and protect the climate.
1. Reduce Energy Demand
This simply means using less energy. Luckily there are several, easy steps you can take to reduce your energy demand:
- Use a programmable thermostat to turn down heating and air conditioning
- Unplug “energy vampire” appliances such as screens that use power even when turned off
- Replace incandescent light bulbs with LED bulbs, and turn off lighting when not in use
- When you need to replace an appliance, make sure it is as energy efficient as possible
Beyond these simple steps, a more comprehensive step to reduce your home’s energy demand is Weatherization – thoroughly insulating the exterior of your home from roof to basement, and sealing up leaky gaps at windows and doors. Think of it like this: “Your home is an essential part of your heating system” – the more attention you pay to insulation and air sealing, the less energy you will need to heat and cool your home – and the lower your utility bills!
The Mass Save program provides free resources that will help with these steps. Their no-cost Home Energy Assessment – available for renters, condo-owners, home-owners and landlords – reviews your residence for energy efficiency and weatherization improvements. Mass Save provides incentives that make the cost of this work heavily discounted and sometimes totally free, and they maintain a list of contractors certified to perform the recommended work.
2. Use 100% Renewable Electricity
To reduce our climate emissions, we need to have our electric grid totally powered by clean, non-emitting energy sources like wind, solar and hydro. Brookline makes it easy to choose 100% green electricity with its Community Choice Aggregation program, known as Brookline Green Electricity (BGE for short). By negotiating a bulk purchase of electricity for Brookline customers in partnership with the Town of Brookline, BGE offers increased levels of renewable electricity. For all of the details and enrollment options see the BGE website.
A further step to use 100% renewable electricity would be to install solar panels on your roof. The Energy Sage platform can be a good place to start. It’s a marketplace developed with support from the US Department of Energy that provides a simple way to get multiple solar bids. You can also ask for advice from neighbors who have already installed rooftop solar. The installation costs can be offset by incentives through the utility companies, as well as state and federal tax credits. And there are also options for leasing solar panels instead of purchasing them outright.
Enrolling in a Community Shared Solar (CSS) program offers a way to help expand solar installations in Massachusetts while receiving a discount on your electricity bill. Programs are offered by solar developers and generally approved by the state; more info can be found on the brookinegreen.com website: (you’ll need to scroll down).
3. Electrify Everything
Wherever equipment and appliances in your home use fossil fuels, they will need to be replaced with electric models. Electric “heat pump” equipment to heat and cool your home is now more cost-effective and appropriate for New England’s climate. Electric options are also available for appliances such as your water heater, clothes dryer, and stove/cooktop. Switching to energy-efficient, all-electric equipment and appliances powered by renewable electricity will go a long way toward reducing our climate emissions.
It can be challenging trying to understand all the factors to consider before making any progress toward electrification. These How-To Guides are geared to Brookline homes of various sizes and ownership, and include stories of neighbors who’ve switched to electric equipment. Guides that are currently available are numbered from simplest and least expensive upgrades, to those that may require more planning.
1: LED Lighting
2: Weatherization: Insulation and Air Sealing
3: Induction Cooking
4: Heat Pump Water Heaters
5: Heat Pump Dryers
6: Heating and Cooling with Air Source Heat Pumps
7: Electrical Service – What You Need to Know
8: Renewable Electricity
When Should I Electrify?
The Quit Carbon website puts it this way:
- The best time to have switched your fossil gas appliances to electric was a few years ago – if we'd all done that, we’d have a dramatically lower risk of climate catastrophe.
- The next best time is right now – our planet can't afford for us to wait to stop burning fossil fuels.
- The worst time is when you are in a hurry. If you wait to electrify your water heater until your old heater has sprung a leak and your showers are cold, you'll almost certainly get another gas heater as electrifying in an emergency is extra tricky.
Make a Plan
Since all your appliances will eventually need replacement, plan ahead for electrification so that you are ready before an emergency arises. Renters and condo-owners may not have control over all of their equipment and appliances; landlords may not be able to make electrification upgrades while units are rented; property owners may not be able to complete a total electrification project all at once.
But most of us can make some beneficial changes, and planning ahead can help clarify what changes, if any, will require further coordination with other residents, landlords or condo associations when new equipment needs to be installed.
Choose what you’ll tackle first based on:
- The equipment and appliances that are your responsibility for maintaining and replacing
- The age and condition of your existing appliances and your heating system
- The estimated replacement cost and annual savings from switching to energy-efficient electric models
- Whether you’ll need electrical system upgrades to install the new equipment and appliances
- The impact your new electric appliances will have on your emissions and indoor air quality
Rewiring America is a terrific resource for helping you make your Electrification Plan. Their guide, “Electrify Everything in Your Home,” copyright ©2021, includes a handy chart laying out options that can help you make a plan for electrifying your residence.
Ideally every Brookline household will begin to assess their current energy use, and the appliances and equipment that are under their control; gathering this data is an important first step to help make a plan to decarbonize their home. It likely will involve researching the age of each appliance/system to determine likely replacement timeframes, meeting with an electrician to plan for any upgrades needed, meeting with vendors and contractors to understand equipment options, and investigating available rebates and incentives.
We’ve created a checklist to help you think about changes and start making a plan.
Every building and home is different, and each plan requires an eye on the details as well as the big picture so you can make changes incrementally, budget for them, and take advantage of any cost savings from state and federal incentives, rebates, and tax credits. The good news is that many of your fellow Brookline residents have completed or are in process of completing their own decarbonization projects so there are many opportunities to learn about successful strategies from community members as you embark on your own electrification projects.
Available Rebates and Tax Credits
While electrifying everything in your home can be a financial investment, both the state and the federal government have tax credits and rebates to help offset some of the expenses.
Rebates from Mass Save: Mass Save offers no-cost Home Energy Assessments – either in-person or virtual – which can be a great starting point for understanding your electrification priorities; the Assessment is often required to be eligible for Mass Save’s 0% interest loans and rebates for heating and cooling equipment, energy efficient appliances, and home weatherization.
Rebates and Tax Credits from the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act: As these are constantly evolving, be sure to verify the latest information.
A good resource for information on the new IRA is Rewiring America, where they provide IRA fact sheets and a savings calculator. They also have a complete guide to the Inflation Reduction Act, including case studies.
Another good resource is the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, which includes a table on available incentives from both our state and the federal government.
We hope these guides can help you get started on the path to decarbonizing your home. Your efforts, along with others in the community, will make a big impact on your emissions as well as on those of our town.
How Your Neighbors Made the Switch
Story #1: A Two-Family Home Carries Out a Multi-Year Electrification Plan
The homeowners had lived in the upper two floors of this 1890’s two-family for over thirty years, and had made some environmental improvements over the years, switching from oil heat to gas, changing every light bulb to LED. But with increasing knowledge of the climate crisis, the owners wanted to take more significant steps to improve the performance of their home. Their goal was to electrify everything in their home, but because they knew that the work would need to be carried out in phases, they made a plan to guide their Home Electrification progress.
The first step was to improve the insulation and air sealing in their old house. They had heard others explain, “Your house is an essential part of your heating system.” By improving the performance of the exterior of the house, the heat pumps they planned to install would be able to operate more efficiently, with less electricity use, and less cost.
Through the Mass Save program they had contractors install blown-in cellulose insulation in the exterior walls of the house. Because they live in a two-family home, they received 100% incentives from the Mass Save program, so ZERO cost. The Mass Save contractor couldn’t address all of the areas needing insulation, but getting the exterior walls done was a large piece.
When they took on a bigger construction project the following year, they took care of drainage problems in the basement, added spray foam insulation on the basement stone foundation walls, and insulated the critical floor framing connecting the basement walls and exterior walls. The contractors also insulated the trickier areas on the third floor under the sloped roof, in the eaves and the attic. The goal was to connect all of these insulated areas, so the house is wrapped with a more complete layer of insulation, and the air leaks are blocked. This has really helped the house stay warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer and much quieter overall.
Planning ahead for electrification of the house, they took a further step and installed solar panels on the roof. In the first two years of operation, the solar panels generated more electricity than the owners used every month – partly because they went through all of the efforts to reduce their energy demand. This overproduction built up a big credit on their Eversource bill to be used later on as more electric appliances were added.
The more challenging step in an older home is to get rid of existing gas infrastructure and electrify everything, and this is where some planning really helped. The owners looked at all of the equipment and appliances in their home fueled by gas. With two dwelling units, they had two gas stoves, two gas clothes dryers, two gas-fired boilers for the heating systems, and one big gas hot water heater. All of these would need to be transitioned from fossil fuels to electricity.
The third floor of the house – the bedroom floor for their upstairs apartment – had been unbearably hot in the summer and not very well cooled by noisy window air conditioners. So they installed a heat pump system for heating AND cooling this level, ducted through the attic above; by removing the hot water radiators on the top floor, they cut down about half the use of their gas-fired heating system for the upstairs unit. They also switched out both gas stoves to electric induction and changed the upstairs gas clothes dryer to electric. This was a good first step in reducing their use of fossil fuels.
The owners were very pleased with the third floor heat pump system – quiet, comfortable and uniformly heated and cooled. Eighteen months later they decided to install heat pumps for the rest of the house, along with switching out the water heater and the clothes dryer in the basement. All of the old cast-iron radiators and piping were removed and recycled, the floors patched and refinished where those radiators used to be, new ductwork added for the heat pump systems, and – perhaps most satisfying – they had the pleasure of watching the gas company remove the two meters and completely disconnecting the home from the gas piping in the street.
The winter of 2022-2023 had been their first heating season totally disconnected from the gas system – no more gas boilers and gas fired hot water heater in the basement, no more dusty old cast iron radiators or pipes anywhere in the house. During the record-setting February cold snap with overnight temperatures down to -11 degrees, their all-electric home performed very well overall. The temperature control wasn’t perfect – and their 125-year old house is far from a perfectly designed new house – but nothing in the heat pump performance affected their comfort sleeping or getting up for breakfast, and by noon-time the heat pump system was maintaining the temperature perfectly again. The homeowners were happy to collect real time data during that extreme cold snap and add their experiences to the Boston Globe article documenting the generally excellent performance of heat pumps during the historic weather event. Properly designed cold climate heat pumps in a reasonably weatherized house CAN handle the worst of New England winter weather without a fossil fuel back-up system!
The Rewiring America site has an excellent guide which contains four case studies with costs and rebates included.
About Electrify Brookline
Electrify Brookline is a collaboration between the Town of Brookline’s Zero Emissions Advisory Board (ZEAB), Mothers Out Front Brookline (MOF) and Climate Action Brookline (CAB). Our goal is to provide clear information to guide the community on the path toward electrification – improving the energy efficiency, health and comfort of their living spaces while reducing climate-damaging emissions to preserve a livable future for all.
IMPORTANT: Verify with your installers that they have the proper licenses and insurance, and confirm that they have or will obtain all required permits and inspections from the Town of Brookline.
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