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Electrification: Dispelling the Myths

I’m no contractor. I’m no electrical pro. I’m no inspector.


  • I have owned four homes over the past two decades that I’ve wholly renovated inside and out for energy efficiency,

  • I have worked in the energy field for both public and private organizations, and

  • I spent 30 years serving customers, managing projects, evaluating human behavior, and advocating for the little guy.

Because of this, I’ve got some unique perspectives that I bring to the topic at hand that is so super hot these days, so much in fact that when I saw this week’s chaos-sowing article on home electrification in the Washington Post, littered with misinformation, factual inaccuracies and downright falsehoods? It spurred me to write about the topic and share not only what I’ve learned, but addressing some of the common misconceptions and generalizations being tossed around out there that are not only sowing chaos, but causing people to distrust and even turn away from making their homes - and communities - more sustainable.

With that, here are my Top 5 Myths About Home Electrification….

MYTH #1: Electrical Panels must have a minimum of 200 amps to install an induction stove / heat pump / HP water heater / solar. No, no, no, and NO! If you have an older home, your electrical panel is more often than not 100 amps (48 million homes, in fact), and tragically, a large number of contractors - and websites of all kinds - falsely claim you must have at least 200 amps to install these. This is creating all kinds of messes, pushing working class folks away from converting to more efficient, less toxic products, and pushing inequity. Getting multiple quotes, I learn a LOT about what is and isn't possible…not to mention listened to my gut when it seemed like some were making false generalizations, upselling rather than making custom recommendations, or outright being lazy (& with that, often condescending to boot). Experienced electricians who don’t take shortcuts have explained to me not only that in all four houses, there’s been no struggle whatsoever to install these energy-saving measures. When I sold my first 1700 s.f. Portland home built in 1925 that I spent 13 years making more efficient, it had a Home Energy Score of 9/10. When we sold our 2300 s.f. Astoria farmhouse built in 1940 that in my words we “rebuilt from the outside in - and inside out”, it was thriving with a heat pump, double induction range and a heat pump water heater…and ready for solar. When we sold our 1160 s.f. Seattle cottage built in 1950 last year which we had weatherized for free thanks to a city program, our electric bills were shrunk and the heat pump, induction range and solar-ready new roof were a huge selling point. And finally, here in our Skagit Valley home built in 1966, we used the profit from our Seattle home sale to convert from manky fossil fuels (gas) to a multi-split heat pump, induction range, HP water heater & washer/dryer AND rooftop solar. All of these homes have had this work done with a 100 amp panel. How, you ask? Easy, actually. Clean energy journalists at Canary Media called out the 100 amp myth, explaining that not only have "technology advances in the last few years...make 100-amp electrification eminently doable”, but also that a recent Peninsula Energy analysis showed "across more than 100,000 single-family homes...99% of both gas-using and all-electric homes never draw more than 100 amps of electric current all year. More than 80% of homes never pull more than 40 amps.” Furthermore, they call out how many contractors and their estimators avoid doing calculations specified in NEC Code 220.87 to obtain historical peak amp usage + 25%, nor do they work with the customer on a Watt Diet Calculator or similar to get the most out of their existing panel and help you evaluate appropriate energy efficient HVAC and appliance options (i.e., replacing your standard dryer with a heat pump ventless dryer - or HP w/d combo - to cut power usage in half, installing a mini split instead of ducted HP to avoid power-hungry heat resistant strips, etc). For solar, the connection is referred to as a Line Side Tap. Velo Solar explains it in layman’s terms: "With a line side tap, also called a supply side connection, the solar inverter is connected to a PV service fused disconnect and/or a solar only circuit breaker panel, which in turn is connected to a junction box. The junction box sits in between the main meter and the main service panel and houses the connections between the main breaker, the utility meter, and the solar system." Pretty rad.

(our home is the dark green line…see how we’re beating out the similarly sized homes in our area?!)

MYTH #2: Energy Efficiency Upgrades are not affordable. While I have pretty deep criticism of using tax credits that us working class folks don’t qualify for instead of instant rebates, there ARE a lot of programs out there that can make a huge difference, from housing agency programs to utility company rebates to statewide and federal incentives. While they can be hard to locate (often due to lack of outreach staffers and websites that don’t get updated), here are 5 great ways to learn more:

  • Utility company websites - electric, gas, water, etc. Everything they offer, from appliance rebates to HVAC incentives to discounts to bill pay assistance, is on their websites. This is how I learned about instant AND post-installation rebates not only for our hybrid (HP) water heater but also for our HP washer/dryer combo, the latter which we actually received TWO rebates for being that it was a combo unit. Saved us over $1,000. While our PUD didn’t have any water-saving incentives (some cities do, including subsidies for dual flush toilets like Santa Rosa, CA!), it did sell us our front yard ready-to-install rain barrel for a great deal.

  • State Weatherization Assistance website - The US Department of Energy has a super easy page where you can click on your state and it’ll take you right to the weatherization programs in your area, covering everything from energy audits to FREE insulation, ventilation, air leak elimination and yes, even subsidized &/or discounted HVAC & water heaters! From Kansas to Alabama to Arizona, every state has one and every state has received funding. The programs target working class communities, who are often left out by the traditional tax credit schemes passed by Congress, and make a HUGE difference. In Seattle, the HomeWise program allowed us to receive $11K worth of insulation (3 of our 4 walls turns out were not insulated, and our attic & crawlspace were severely under-insulated), seal a TON of holes/cracks letting the air (and ants!) escape, and installed a whole-house ventilation system including two new super quiet, Energy Star bath fans. The contractor was in & out in 2 days, and our utility bills (as per the earlier link) proved the work was hugely valuable, as our electric bill and overall usage went way down - AND we were way more comfortable in both winter and summer since our hybrid heat pump system wasn’t struggling!

  • Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) - Led by the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center, this is THE database for searching by state and multiple subcategories to learn about every single state incentive out there, from green mortgages to appliance rebates to residential energy incentives to renter programs as well as commercial & small business assistance. It also caters to the policy wonks, describing how everything works, is funded, and more.

  • City and County Websites for Programs - States don’t always have the most up to date or detailed info on local programs. When we moved up to the Skagit Valley, I could only find utility rebates but nothing for our county on energy efficiency programs, just the surrounding areas! So I checked out the county site and found the local program, and after a little persistence, I found out the county Housing Authority also runs a weatherization program. When you’re searching, good city & county departments to check are Housing and Planning & Development. Not all of them refer to “Sustainability” or “Energy Efficiency” upfront. Also, know that the term “low-income” means different things in different areas - DON’T ASSUME you don’t qualify! In Seattle, the family max was in the low 100Ks and for a couple it was close to 75K - when I learned this, I shared it with my whole working class neighborhood, many who were quite jubilant :)

  • Ask Ask Ask!!! I did an online search for “how to get a free heat pump” and this great article on explains how there are a LOT of folks eligible for a 100% subsidized heat pump (i.e., FREE). I also found out the LIHEAP (the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program- especially good for those making minimum wage, seniors who rely on Social Security, etc) is still looking for residents to help not only with energy bills, but with things like furnace repairs and upgrades. Renters are eligible as well! And when I applied for HomeWise weatherization back in Seattle? I learned they have a FREE heat pump program for low- to moderate- income folks with oil furnaces. Furthermore, many states offer ZERO-INTEREST LOANS to finance energy upgrades. My nextdoor neighbor did this for her solar install a couple years ago, and states like Massachusetts and many others offer these as part of their residential programs. Very cool. Poke around. Ask your neighbors and friends. Go online and ask ALL the questions, no matter how crazy it might seem. You might be surprised at what you learn!

MYTH #3: You must have a south-facing roof to go solar. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Fact is, west and east work just fine as well (ours are actually installed facing west). As EnergySage reports, "East-west systems can produce plenty of power, and so can panels that are mounted nearly flat, or even at fairly steep angles.” In fact, many experts are now saying that West-facing panels are more effective - GreenBuildingAdvisor says that, because of customers using more energy after school/work/etc. and thereby putting more pressure on the grid, sun hitting the panels in the afternoons is more productive. "Peak demand on the grid occurs about 5pm, when the output of south-facing panels has fallen sharply. By 4pm, only 27% of solar homes are exporting power to the grid; by 5pm, that’s fallen to 6%... Shifting more PV panels to the west would produce electricity at a time when the electricity is much more useful to utilities, reducing the need for utilities to buy costly power to meet peak loads."

The bigger issues are things like SHADE. Our neighbors to our south have trees that would shade the south-facing section of our roof, while the west-facing (front of house) is wide open, welcoming those rays of sunshine while the roof angle is fairly moderate and therefore not sitting in shade in the morning like steeper roofs.. As the article elaborates, "The bigger blockers tend to be shading, roof size, local electricity prices, and local solar-power least 82% of buildings in the US get enough sunlight to qualify as good candidates for some solar panels.” So even if you can’t have the standard number for your house’s consumption, you can get partial assistance from the sun.

And guess what? If you’ve got space in your yard or live on property? You can get ground-mounted solar panels and have them tilted in the optimal direction. Back at our farm, we had planned on eventually going solar and had considered these in our 3 acre rewilded pasture.

MYTH #4: Electricity Comes from Fossil Fuels so it’s a Con. Actually, 57% of the nation’s energy overall from fossil fuels (20% coal, 37% gas), and electricity sources widely vary by state. In Oregon & Washington, renewables like Hydro and Wind produce over 75%, and Iowa, South Dakota and Kansas lead the way overall in renewable energy use percentages. Meanwhile, you can see above what states are going gangbusters in producing electricity for the grid via renewables. Only 9 states have coal as their majority (you can guess which filibuster-supporting, coal baron senator’s state leads the way).

MYTH #5: Heat Pumps Only Work in Mild Climates. Old heat pumps were definitely not outfitted for the super cold or super hot days, but the ones these days? They now have models that go down to -15F! Education has made the difference so that customers know that yes, even in crazy cold winters, these are hugely successful - and efficient. Case in point: Grist reports that “Maine now has a higher rate of heat pump installations per capita than most European countries…At current prices, running a heat pump costs half as much as oil and 1/3 as much as propane." And they definitely understand cold up there, y’all. Oh - and while it’s not going tor fully replace other fuels (yet), subsidies for heat pumps in the Arctic areas of Alaska are happening, paired with solar arrays, providing cost savings AND efficiency for those communities.

Additionally, they are FABULOUS in heat waves and standard ones tackle up to 115F days (looking at you, Texas and Arizona…). The folks at Sealed go on to mention that "Even during a heat wave, heat pumps can use less energy and maintain more consistent temperatures than standard and high-capacity AC options.” The biggest misnomer out there? The name! I admit with our first heat pump that came with the farmhouse, for the first year I assumed the thermostat was joking with me where it had a “cool” button because the name literally says HEAT. Totally slipped by me as well when I worked in energy efficiency, y’all. Boy did it become a life changer during the 2021 heat dome that made our normally mild coastal area a three-digit hell…now I can’t imagine having a home without one!

Amen to clean technology for all these advances. And big thanks to all folks asking the questions instead of assuming, and the many out there proving the naysayers wrong, stepping up for the community AND the planet.

“But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.” ~ Rachel Carson


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