Home Electrification on a Budget: It’s All About Planning Ahead
By Don Knapp, Switch Is On Ambassador
Want to know a secret to electrifying your home on a budget, while avoiding headaches and missteps? It’s simple: Prioritize planning. Map out a basic plan to convert your home to all-electric systems and appliances, step by step over time.
I started this process more than a decade ago, when my wife and I purchased our 1913 Craftsman home in Oakland. Boy, was it a fixer-upper. But from the start, I had a vision to transform it into a healthy, efficient, all-electric home that would no longer run directly on climate-polluting fossil fuels. I created a high-level plan—nothing fancy or technical, just a one-page spreadsheet—for how and when to switch each major appliance from gas to electric.
Read on to learn about my approach to home electrification planning, what I’ve accomplished so far, and what’s left on my checklist.
The Benefits of Home Electrification Planning
When I talk to friends and neighbors about home electrification, they love the idea. But they typically don’t know where to begin, what to prioritize, or how factors like the size of their electrical panel can influence the process.
“There’s a gap between intention and knowledge,” says Cooper Marcus, Chief Quitter at QuitCarbon, an organization that develops free “Quitting Plans” to help Bay Area residents electrify their homes.
“That’s why a plan is so valuable. It helps people see the whole picture—from their starting point on day 1 to the future state where their home is electrified. A plan shows them how all the puzzle pieces fit together, and that really gives them more confidence when they start talking to contractors.”
Putting a plan in place means that you’ll be prepared to take advantage of electrification opportunities when they arise. If an appliance fails suddenly, for example, you’ll know what it takes to switch to electric, so that in an emergency you won’t end up buying a gas appliance again—and getting locked into another 10-20 years of fossil fuel use.
How I Approached Home Electrification Planning
Like most people, my wife and I didn’t have the funds to replace all our gas appliances at once. Instead, we took the slow-and-steady route. Our challenge was determining how to prioritize: In what order should we replace our gas stove, gas furnace, gas dryer, and gas water heater?
“For most homeowners, I suggest prioritizing the replacement of a gas stove first, because it has health impacts as bad as second-hand cigarette smoke,” says Sean Armstrong, a residential electrification expert and Managing Principal at Redwood Energy. “After that, you could replace whichever of the two big gas loads—space heating or water heating—is in need of replacement sooner. Or, from a budget perspective, you could upgrade to a heat pump water heater first, since it is one-third to one-fourth the price of replacing your HVAC system.”
A decade ago, my wife and I opted for the budget-based approach. We would replace each gas appliance as it neared the end of its useful life. My “plan” simply consisted of a spreadsheet that noted each appliance or system, and answered the following questions about them:
- How old is this appliance and what is its likely replacement date?
- What type of electric appliance or technology is right for our needs?
- Will an electric version of this appliance require a new electric circuit to be installed first? How will I run that circuit from my panel to the appliance?
- Do we have enough breaker space and overall juice in my 125-amp electrical panel to add more electric appliance circuits?
- Do other home improvement projects (e.g., repairs, remodeling) present an opportunity to upgrade this appliance or further our electrification journey in some way?
- Can I save money with a DIY approach to this upgrade project?
Home Electrification Planning Resources
Want to create your own electrification plan? Grab the free resources developed by these leading organizations:
- Electrify Now: For a primer on the benefits of home electrification and how to get started, review Electrify Now’s overview page and fact sheet.
- Rewiring America: Download their fantastic planning resources, including the Electrify Everything in Your Home Guide, an electrification planning chart, and electrification checklists for homeowners and renters.
- Redwood Energy: For a deep dive into specific appliance and product options, as well as electrification best practices, read the 91-page Pocket Guide to All-Electric Retrofits of Single-Family Homes.
- QuitCarbon: Contact the team at QuitCarbon for a free, customized plan to electrify your home, including appliance and contractor recommendations.
Step by Step, from EV Charging to Water Heating
With my slow-and-steady plan in hand, my wife and I have made significant progress over the past 12 years. We’ve given our house a lot of love, including two major remodels that netted us a third bedroom and a basement office. And most recently, we completed a kitchen remodel. In each of these projects, we found opportunities to improve the home’s energy efficiency and electrification. The timeline below gives you an overview of our progress.
EV charging: Long before we purchased an electric vehicle, we seized an opportunity to install two future EV charging circuits. In 2012, our basement was mostly unfinished, with bare studs and joists that made it easy to run new wiring. Before we added new drywall to our garage walls and ceiling, I added one 40-amp circuit to our attached garage, and a second one to the wall adjacent to our driveway.
Insulation and air sealing: During a 2013 remodel (in which we changed the layout of our main hallway and rooms to add a third bedroom) we added insulation and air sealing to all bedrooms, as well as air sealing and duct sealing to the attic. I wanted to install attic insulation myself, but never found the time before my first daughter was born. At this point, we’ll add it to our planned 2023 HVAC upgrade project. While insulation and air sealing aren’t technically electrification upgrades, these energy efficiency measures are critically important for any climate-friendly home.
Heat pump water heater: In 2019, we replaced our ancient gas water heater before it failed completely. My first task was to run a 30-amp circuit to the laundry room. Then I installed a 65-gallon Rheem Performance Platinum heat pump water heater, which has worked flawlessly ever since.
Electric dryer circuit: When I added my water heater circuit, I also ran a future dryer circuit. We still have a gas dryer, and the plan is to replace in within the next few years. This will be an easy plug-and-play install, since the circuit is already set up.
Electric vehicle: In 2019 we purchased our first EV, a Nissan Leaf that handles 75% of our daily driving. We got an EV charger and set it up with our garage circuit. Whenever we buy a second EV or plug-in hybrid, we’ll activate the driveway EV circuit as well.
Electrical panel upgrade: In advance of a 2021 kitchen remodel, we recognized that our current electrical panel and subpanel didn’t have enough breaker space for all the required kitchen circuits. Instead of a second subpanel, it made more sense to upgrade our 125-amp service to 200 amps, so we’d have plenty of power in the future for an all-electric home. We even got a large Eaton panel with space for 40 breakers—more than enough room for future needs, from a heat pump to solar PV and a battery.
Induction stove circuit: To keep costs under control, we completed our 2021 kitchen remodel without replacing any appliances. But once again, we took advantage of exposed walls to add a future 50-amp circuit for an induction stove.
Heat pump and HVAC: In 2023 we’re taking a big leap forward. We’ll replace our gas furnace with a heat pump that is far more efficient and gives us both heating and cooling—increasingly a must-have in Oakland when summer temperatures soar. To offset the cost of a heat pump and a package of other HVAC upgrades, including new ductwork and attic insulation, we’re excited to take advantage of generous California rebates, as well as upcoming federal tax credits and incentives through the Inflation Reduction Act.
Induction stove and heat pump dryer: I wish an induction stove upgrade wasn’t last on this list, but compromises are inevitable with a budget-based approach, and patience is a necessity. I’m eager to get harmful gas fumes out of our kitchen, and hope we can make the switch in 2024, along with replacing our gas dryer with a heat pump dryer.
Solar PV and battery: Rooftop solar with battery backup is still a nice-to-have for us at this point. Decarbonizing our appliances and HVAC is the bigger priority. But whenever our roof needs replacing, we’ll surely add solar panels to the project.
The Vision: Disconnecting that Final Gas Line
Switching on a new electric appliance feels incredibly satisfying, as does a secondary task: capping and dismantling each length of gas pipe that is no longer needed. I dream of the day when gas infrastructure is permanently disconnected from my home. Because there’s no going back to fossil fuels. Our climate future is all electric.