Climate Profile: How Dave Donnelly electrified his home
It was August of 2021, and Dave Donnelly and his wife Stacy Holybee were trying to figure out a way to survive the apocalyptic wildfire smoke. Like many of us here in Truckee, Dave considered installing air conditioning when the strategy of opening the windows at night to let in the cool air and closing them during the day was made obsolete by the non-stop smoke. Dave heard of heat pumps and thought: “Why install air conditioning when I can install a heat pump instead?” Heat pumps are really just two-way air conditioning units. They can pump heat into and out of buildings whereas air conditioning units can only pump heat out of buildings. This started Dave on a journey of discovery that led him to completely electrify his home.
When I asked if climate change was a consideration for their home electrification project, Dave stated that climate change and the environment are big considerations in their decision-making. He quickly added that they were not in a financial situation to just throw money at this project without concern for costs. The project had to make sense as an overall value proposition. Besides costs, what were the factors that Dave and Stacy considered? For one, Stacy is a crisis counselor who works from home. She and her clients cannot afford to be disconnected during a conversation. Having power, even during power outages, was critical. Also, the comfort and air quality of their home were important considerations.
In the process of educating himself on home electrification, Dave became a devotee of Nate Adams, an HVAC technician from Ohio who is also known as the “House Whisperer”. Nate has created an impressive array of YouTube videos and a very active Facebook page that other HVAC techs and dedicated DIY homeowners refer to when going through the home electrification process. After watching Nate’s videos, I can say they are for folks with a background in HVAC or neophytes who are not intimidated by technical information. I toured Dave and Stacy’s home post-electrification and can testify that Dave has become somewhat of an expert on home electrification despite the fact that he works as a local Realtor and real estate photographer. Dave has generously offered to informally consult on local home electrification projects. Please reach out to Dave directly at email@example.com if you would like to avail yourself of his generosity.
What does it mean to electrify a home? Generally speaking, electrifying a home or building means swapping all fossil fuel appliances for electrical appliances. This typically includes: furnace or boiler, hot water heater, stove top and clothes dryer. Electric heat pumps can heat your home’s air and water and dry your clothes. An induction cooktop can replace your gas range. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you disconnect the gas line to your home. Dave and Stacy kept their gas line because it provides heat to their home in case of a power outage. Installing solar panels on the roof of your home makes sense on a roof that is exposed to the sun and oriented in the right direction to pick up significant sun even in winter (South facing is particularly advantageous). For customers of the Truckee Donner PUD, their electricity is already 70% renewable, providing homes a good amount of clean electricity, even without solar panels.
As it happens, Dave and Stacy’s home is oriented perfectly and isn’t shaded by trees. They installed solar panels in 2019 to take advantage of rebates that were offered by their utility at the time. If Dave had it to do over, he would have installed even more solar panels; at the time of this installation, he wasn’t planning on full electrification of his home. The solar contractor he used was Simple Power Solar, and he was very happy with their work.
Dave acted as the project manager, but he didn’t do the work himself. Fortunately, In Motion Mechanical was already familiar with heat pump installation and they are certified installers of one of the best cold climate heat pumps available, the Mitsubishi Hyper-Heat heat pump, that performs at full efficiency down to 5°F. These types of cold climate heat pumps are deployed in large numbers in places every bit as cold as Truckee such as Maine, Canada and Norway.
In the end, Dave estimates that they spent $64k on his conversion project after rebates. This includes: 7.7kw solar array, Tesla power wall battery with 13.5 kWh of storage, three-ton heat pump system, heat pump hot water heater, induction stove, and some electrical upgrades. For Dave and Stacy, they feel like the improved comfort, air quality, and resilience to power outages made the project well worth it. Dave admits that the Power Wall made the project more expensive than one could justify based simply on energy savings, but the resilience to power outages made the battery worth it. Unfortunately for Dave and Stacy, but fortunately for those of us that haven’t converted our homes yet, the Inflation Reduction Act, which passed in August of this year, provides a lot of money in rebates for home electrification. It will take a little while for the state of California to figure out how it is going to allocate those funds, but when they do, the timing will be right to get on it. The California Air Resources Board passed a ruling in September stipulating that no new gas appliances can be purchased in California beyond 2030. That leaves us only eight years to prepare, and thankfully, people like Dave and Stacy are leading the way!
Matt Tucker is a Truckee dad, husband and fired up advocate for the climate.
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