The New Electric-Powered Home

With all-electric homes, it’s a case of common sense: electrify, and they will buy.

Given that buildings in the U.S. consume 70 percent of the nation’s total electricity and generate 40 percent of the nation’s total carbon emissions, it is more important than ever to transition to a net zero (energy, water, and carbon), all-electric, resilient-built environment.

Powering Up According to the EPA, approximately 70 million American homes burn natural gas, oil, or propane to heat interior space and water. This generates 560 million tons of CO2 each year.  Fortunately, the electrification of America is happening, with jurisdictions from California to New York implementing mandates and rebates for all-electric new construction and retrofits. 

Approximately 26 percent of all homes in the United States were run entirely with electricity in 2020—the most recent data available—according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). That number will continue to grow, with increased recognition of the damaging impact of natural gas-powered systems and appliances on the planet and on people’s health, and also due to the increased costs of gas.

Would you buy an all-electric home-1

Evolving codes are encouraging the phaseout of natural gas infrastructure. Some municipalities are completely banning natural gas hookups, while others are offering incentives, like density bonuses, to builders and developers who electrify their communities.

Do you think its important for homes to be energy efficient

Almost universally, survey respondents indicated that they believe that it’s highly important for homes to be energy efficient. Source: Green Builder Media

There is also the recently signed Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA), which allocates $369 billion to reduce domestic emissions approximately 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. (See the section “Climate Action Reaction” for more details.)

According to Charlotte Cohn, a research analyst for the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), residential energy use accounts for roughly 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, making building electrification a key priority for fighting climate change. 

“If U.S. residential buildings were a country, it would be the sixth-highest emitter of greenhouse gasses in the world,” she says. “The time for comprehensive solutions is now.” 

Incentives to Electrify

Obstacles to Electrification

Certainly, consumer demand, evolving codes, and the impending infusion of federal funding are driving the electrification of the built environment. But there are some fundamental challenges that may slow the pace of transformation.

Which of the following would you invest in to make your home electric

Many things must be considered when converting a home to all-electric status. Heat pump heating and cooling, and solar power are at the top of the list. Source: Green Builder Media

First, power grids are regulated by federal, state and local authorities, and operated by utility companies that may not have the capacity to quickly upgrade their systems to manage a new heavy reliance on electricity. 

Major investments are needed to update grid infrastructure, transformers, conductors, service panels, and equipment to handle the increased demand that will result from the electrification of homes and buildings. Few utilities are currently prepared to incur these costs, and it’s unclear whether they will allocate funding for these equipment upgrades or if they’ll try to pass the cost along to home and building owners.

While $73 billion was included in the recently signed infrastructure bill to help cover grid upgrades, it can take years for projects to be approved and funded. In the meantime, customers and utility companies will need to adapt their existing equipment and prepare for future consumption increases.

Also, scale matters when it comes to going electric. The grid infrastructure may be in place on a street for one home in a neighborhood to make this conversion, but if multiple homes convert at the same time, it could quickly overrun the safe load for the area. 

Experts note that it is possible to increase electric demand suddenly and dramatically in a way that a neighborhood grid can’t easily handle. Typical cases that are causing the most problems so far, however, are not related to induction cooktops or heat pumps. They’re happening in homes that are charging electric vehicles or using home wiring systems that don’t include upgraded panels.”

Furthermore, it’s much easier to electrify new structures than to retrofit existing homes.  For example, while the Inflation Reduction Act will provide incentives for home and building owners to make certain efficiency and electrification upgrades, the reality of retrofitting is complex at best and daunting at worst—especially in today’s zany building market.

And then there are the pervasive labor challenges. Steve Easley, internationally esteemed building scientist and owner of the ReVISION House Scottsdale, says he’s had a hard time finding subcontractors that will consider using best practice building techniques and install advanced technologies needed to electrify homes. 

“Many times during the course of our project, we have heard ‘we don’t do it that way,’ or ‘we only use materials that we are familiar with,’” Easley notes. “The subs have no problem walking away from work that requires them to do anything different from what they are used to. Because of the massive unmet demand for housing, I don’t see this issue going away anytime soon.”

Ultimately, Easley obtained the subcontractors he needed to accomplish most of what he wanted, but it added quite a bit of time to the project. “If you’re building homes,” he advises, “be sure to factor in the additional time it takes to find cooperative subs.”

what do you think are the biggest benefits to owning an all-electric home

Homeowners want to go all-electric to reduce their environmental footprint, but they also associate electric appliances with healthier living. It’s not clear which aspect of the appliances leads to that perception, although induction cooking, for example, does tend to produce far less indoor pollution than gas cooktops, and air filter systems generally run on electricity. Source: Green Builder Media

Clean Energy Tech More Affordable 

Despite these challenges, electrification technologies are rapidly becoming more cost effective and reliable than fossil fuel systems in most markets and climate zones across the country.  

What would prevent you from buying an all-electric home

About a third of respondents think electricity is too expensive to convert to all electric. Residential solar arrays could mitigate that concern. Source: Green Builder Media

Home tech has become much more widespread, as has knowledge. For example, not only are induction stoves twice as energy efficient as gas stoves, which saves on utility bills while reducing carbon output, but they also contribute to better indoor air quality. 

And, optimal design is providing builders with more bang for their buck. This includes optimal solar orientation, and use of thermal mass (especially in hot regions), overhangs and shading. There is also energy-efficient building envelope assembly, such as wraps or tape, insulated sheathing, insulation, high-performance windows, insulated doors, cool roofs and weatherization systems.

Venture capital and private investment funds are also playing a key role in scaling innovative electrification solutions, helping to spur development, accelerate adoption, increase output, and decrease production costs. This will be good news for all-electric housing: The market growth for electrification technologies is expected to skyrocket from $2.4 billion in 2020 to $12.9 billion in 2029. 

electric kitchen

This story is part of a special report presented with generous sponsorship from: ProVia, Whirlpool, Cultured Stone, and Sonos.