Electrification is one way to save money and address climate change.
While plenty of houses cook with gas, heat water with propane or even warm up with a wood stove, 26% of them use only electricity for all their energy needs. That milestone comes amid a push by some advocates to remove those other fuels from homes as a way to address climate change and save some money as fossil fuels become more expensive.
As of 2020, better than 32 million houses used only electricity for their energy needs, the Energy Information Administration reported in July. That percentage is likely to increase. There are both climate and financial reasons to electrify your home. We'll discuss them below.
Electrifying your home falls outside the realm of easy energy and money-saving hacks. If you're looking for some low-hanging, money-saving fruit, find out how much unplugging some appliances and turning off your lights can save you. Make sure you know when energy is most expensive and brush up on some other energy-saving tips.
The big reason here is climate change. The planet is getting hotter because of emissions like carbon dioxide that come from burning fossil fuels. In the US (which has the highest per capita carbon emissions), over 75% of carbon dioxide emissions came from transportation, electricity generation and industry, the Environmental Protection Agency reports.
While many of those problems and their solutions require corporate or government action, about 6% of US carbon dioxide emissions came from residential buildings in 2020. That means homeowners (and renters, by lobbying their landlords) can do something about carbon emissions on their own: They can electrify their homes.
Electrification means replacing furnaces, water heaters, stoves or other appliances that burn fossil fuels like natural gas and propane with electric alternatives. One recent study found that greenhouse gases from the gas stoves in the US was equal to those of half a million cars.
While electricity can come from dirtier sources like coal, the power that flows to your house is certainly getting cleaner. While burning fossil fuels still accounts for 60% of electricity generation in the US, renewable sources now make up 20% and continue to increase their share. Wind and solar power accounted for most of the new energy added to the grid in 2021. As more clean sources are added in the future, your induction stovetop or heat pump will be even more environmentally friendly than the gas alternative.
It's a way to do right by the environment "that doesn't require sacrifice from the consumer," said Sam Calisch, head of special projects for Rewiring America, a nonprofit advocating for electrification of homes and vehicles.
Achieving electrification in 25% of American homes is a good start and an important step in solving the challenge of climate change, though progress toward major climate goals like the Paris Climate Agreement is still behind schedule.
Home electrification may be a bit better than the recently announced 26%, though. The data behind that number was collected in 2020, before gas prices jumped with inflation and Russia's war against Ukraine.
"It's a snapshot that's already becoming outdated," Calisch said.
Swapping gas appliances (or cars) for electric ones can pay off in the long run. Shifting from forced air heating and cooling to a heat pump can save you thousands of dollars in energy costs over the lifetime of your system, according to the EPA. Energy costs are more than 6% household income for 25% of American households, according to research from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. That research used data from before the COVID-19 pandemic and recent inflation.
Similarly, an electric vehicle can travel the same distance as a car with an internal combustion engine for a fraction of the cost. As of this writing, the average cost for a gallon of gasoline is $4.21, according to AAA. At a similar price, annual fuel costs for gas powered vehicles are about three times the charging costs of a similar electric vehicle. While electric vehicles cost more upfront, lower fuel and maintenance costs mean, over the lifetime of the vehicle, you should save.
The same is generally true for home appliances. A heat pump may cost more upfront, but it saves money compared to a furnace (and can replace an air conditioner to boot). Replacing a natural gas furnace, a heat pump can save about $100 annually on average, the Carbon Switch reports. Switching from other sources of heating like a propane furnace ($855) or a natural gas boiler ($199) will save you even more.
Residential electricity increased about 7% from May 2021 to May 2022, according to the EIA. Natural gas prices for residential use increased about 11% from April 2021 to April 2022. Natural gas prices are generally more variable than electricity prices.
Swapping out gas appliances from your home can also be a good thing for your health. Gas stoves can release carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and other pollutants into your home, according to the California Air Resources Board.
When electric vehicles replace internal combustion engines, they avoid the tailpipe emissions that can harm human health. The EPA found that "pollutants emitted from motor vehicles can cause lung and heart problems and premature death."
It's probably not feasible to run out and electrify your home tomorrow (unless you have a bunch of money you need to spend).
But, preparing for the eventuality can make you more likely to follow through when the time comes. You're less likely to get an electric water heater if you need to do research, find a qualified installer and wait for a new outlet to be put in. The prospect of three weeks of cold showers in the winter might be enough to make someone choose a natural gas water heater, Calisch said. Installing a new gas water heater locks in demand for natural gas for another 15 years or so. Replacing appliances before they die will give you the time to make sure the transition is as painless as possible and help you get fossil fuels out of your home, Calisch said.
"All the pieces of infrastructure hiding in our basements and laundry rooms are really important," Calisch said.
Electric appliances have the potential to save you money, improve your life at home and help the planet. They're within reach with a bit of investment.