By Jonathan Comstock
Beneficial electrification* needs to become a familiar household concept just like the value of renewable energy. Renewable energy comes from sources that are self-renewing, like solar, wind and hydropower. But merely converting our current electric use to renewably sourced electricity is not enough. We also need to eliminate the current reliance on fossil fuels in our transportation and home heating systems because they account for the vast majority of our energy use.
The point is that we have excellent opportunities to adopt superior electric technologies for transportation and to heat and cool our homes. When we do this, our total electric use will go up. But our total energy use will drop substantially because of the elimination of fossil fuel use and the tremendous increases in energy efficiency as we shift to these modern electric technologies.
Bryan Roy’s “Signs of Sustainability” article went into considerable depth on electric vehicles and the growing infrastructure to support them in Tompkins County. If you missed it, check it out online.
Now, let’s focus on the most substantial use of energy directly within the home, which is — home heating and cooling.
A great place to start is in upgrading the insulation and air-sealing of a home.
A much more significant percentage than necessary of the energy used in heating and cooling is simply wasted due to the inefficiency of the building itself to retain heat. Although modern building codes are much improved, many older homes in Tompkins County were often built with minimal thought for building efficiency. This inefficiency results in a tremendous waste of money in unnecessary heating and cooling and also poor comfort due to cold spots and drafts.
Once you are satisfied with the insulation of your home, the next step is to change the heating system itself. Wood and pellet stoves are potentially economical and renewable since the biomass can regrow. For many, this may be a good option. Nonetheless, they are less scalable than heat pumps and still have all the issues of air quality associated with burning stuff inside your home. Heat pumps, with no combustion at all in your basement, bedrooms or living room, are simply the cleanest and healthiest option available.
One of the obstacles people run into, however, is their lack of familiarity with heat pump technologies.
You may be surprised to know you already have a heat pump in your home. You grew up with it, rely on it, and trust it without any doubts. It’s called a refrigerator. Heat pumps, whether air source or ground source varieties, all use that same basic process with which you already feel comfortable.
But obstacles may still exist because you do not have a cherished brand or feel confident that you know what features are essential and what is the best equipment for your budget. One solution to this problem is the HeatSmart Tompkins program. HeatSmart is a local, non-profit, and volunteer-led program in which residents help other residents by pulling together and sharing some simple what-you-need-to-know information. HeatSmart will walk you through the options and point the way towards vetted equipment and installers.
The best way to take advantage of this resource is to come to one of the HeatSmart public meetings.
You can find the full schedule and all the time and location details on the website.
If you haven’t any experience with heat pumps for heating and cooling, you may want to attend some HeatSmart tours where you can meet and talk to people, just like you, only they recently made the leap. Find out how they feel about the process and the final result. The full tour schedule is also on the website.
Finally, on the website you can also find a heating news blog, various fact sheets and a place to enroll in the HeatSmart program, which costs nothing and carries no obligation. Especially if your home is heated with a fuel like heating oil or propane, you will find that you not only come out ahead with greater comfort and healthier home, but you can also save quite a bit of money.
Jonathan Comstock is the HeatSmart Tompkins Program Director.
A version of this article was originally published in the Tompkins Weekly.
*Beneficial electrification: is a term for replacing direct fossil fuel use (e.g., propane, heating oil, gasoline) with electricity in a way that reduces overall emissions and energy costs. There are many opportunities across the residential and commercial sectors. This can include switching to an electric vehicle or an electric heating system – as long as the end-user and the environment both benefit. Source: Environmental and Energy Study Institute