Get your home off gas

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Photo: Gromgull

Tackling climate change is going to take big, systematic changes that we all have to work together for — along with smaller changes that we can make in our own lives. One of the biggest sources of carbon emissions that many of us have direct control over is the natural gas we use in our homes, which puts out a lot more carbon pollution than many of us realize. Right now, the BC Government is offering very generous incentives for homeowners to switch their natural gas, oil or propane heating and hot water to electric heat pumps. And with modern heat pump technology, electric heating doesn’t have to cost more than a gas furnace or hot water tank to run.

With the Clean BC rebates to replace natural gas heating, you could save $6,000 or more when you install an air-source heat pump and $2,000 for a heat pump hot water heater.

Anyone who has ever paid an electrical bill to heat a house through a cold February knows that heating with electric baseboards or an electric furnace is pretty expensive. So why would you want to switch your home to electric heat? Because heat pumps use a lot less electricity than normal electric heating. If you install an air-source heat pump heating system in your home, you’ll end up spending roughly the same for heating, while using low-carbon B.C. electricity and reducing your carbon footprint by more than you might think.

Photo: Clean BC

Heat pumps explained

So how does an air-source heat pump work? It’s just like an air conditioner. In fact, heat pumps for heating are air conditioners, just running in reverse in the winter: cooling the outdoors a tiny bit while warming up the inside of your house. It’s all about moving heat from one place to another instead of just turning electricity directly into heat. By moving heat, you can get up to five times as much heat for every unit of electricity as you would with a baseboard heater. It just takes less energy to move heat from one place to another than it does to turn electrical energy directly into heat. That’s physics working in your favour!

Twenty years ago, heat pumps weren’t a great option in our cold Kootenay climate. They stopped working when it got too cold and you were stuck with backup electric heat. But for more than a decade, people around the world have been installing special heat pumps that are designed for cold climates. These heat pumps, from major companies like Mitsubishi and Fujitsu, keep moving heat into your house even when the temperature drops way below -20C. It might not make sense to think you can heat your home to 20C by taking a little bit of heat from -20C air, but that’s the wonder of modern technology.

And this isn’t some untested new technology: people here in the Kootenays heat their homes with air-source heat pumps and have for years. Some HVAC contractors might not be up to speed, but there are contractors with experience in the Kootenays who can help.

Affordable hot water without gas

After heating our homes, hot water is usually our second largest use of natural gas, propane or heating oil. Fortunately, heat pumps can make your hot water heating more efficient as well. You can install a heat pump hot water tank inside your house that moves heat out of your house and puts it into your hot water. In the summer, you get some free cooling, while in the winter you use a little bit of heat from your house. All in all, you’re heating your water at about three times the efficiency of a normal electric hot water tank.

A gas pipeline under construction. Photo: NPCA

What’s the bottom line?

Your costs to run an electric heat pump for heating or hot water will depend on a lot of factors, including the details of your house, the efficiency of your furnace or hot water tank and climate, but the bottom line is that you can expect costs that are roughly the same as what you pay for natural gas now. If you have an old, low efficiency furnace or hot water tank, or you’re using propane or heating oil, the economics are more likely to work out better. Of course, if you have an old, poorly insulated home with cold drafts in the winter, you might be better off insulating and air sealing your house first rather than investing in an oversized heating system.

And if you get rid of your gas furnace and hot water heater, then you might be able to shut off your gas line entirely, saving $150 a year in connection fees.

But there’s more than one bottom line: what about your carbon emissions? It depends on your home, but a typical home with natural gas heating and hot water in the Kootenays puts out about 5 tonnes of CO2 every year. That’s more than a quarter of our total Canadian carbon emissions per person! It’s about the same carbon footprint as all the driving two average Canadians do in a year. It’s even worse with propane or heating oil.

Here’s another way to look at it: in BC, you can choose to buy renewable natural gas, which is just methane that comes from rotting manure or garbage, with minimal net carbon emissions. You’ll pay 40% more for renewable natural gas, so if you compare the cost of renewable natural gas to electricity used in a heat pump, you’re definitely going to come out ahead going electric.

There’s a lot we can’t personally control when it comes to carbon emissions, including agriculture, waste, heavy industry, mining and logging. So we have to take the opportunities we can to cut our own carbon footprints. Getting your home off fossil fuels is one of the biggest steps you can take — and now with these rebates, it’s easier than ever.

The Elko gas pipeline compression station.

All the details

Clean BC’s rebates are $6,000 for switching from a natural gas, propane or oil heating system to a heat pump system, which could be a heat pump that connects to your furnace ducts to distribute heat, one or more mini-split systems that heat your living spaces directly, or even a heat pump to connect to your radiators. Depending on your house, this should cover about half of the cost of installing a qualifying system. For hot water heating, there’s a $2,000 rebate to replace a natural gas hot water heater with a heat pump. That should easily cover more than half the cost.

If you need to upgrade your electrical service to accommodate an electric heating or hot water system, Clean BC has another $1,000 rebate for you. And if you replace both heating and hot water, there’s a $300 bonus. There’s even a group purchase rebate to save a few hundred more (contact us about this). And if you need financing, they’ll lend you the money at 0% interest for five years. Even folks with a wood stove can get in on these rebates, as long as they’re removing a natural gas furnace or hot water heater.

This rebate offer is a special doubling of the normal rebates in order to help with economic recovery from coronavirus. You have to register for the rebate by the end of March and then you have until the end of June to have your upgrades installed. Clean BC has an energy coach service to help you understand your options.

If you’re considering insulating, air sealing or replacing doors and windows in your home, Clean BC has rebates for you too. Replacing old appliances? Yes, that too. If you’re on the coast or in an Indigenous community, there are even more generous rebates for heat pumps.

And if you’re thinking of replacing that other big carbon emitter in your life — your car — there are $8,000 rebates if you buy an electric car and an additional $6,000 if you scrap your old car. Learn more about electric cars at the Making the Switch webinar on March 3.

Questions? Send us an email and we’ll try to help, or read more about heat pumps from BC Hydro.

It’s time to be a climate leader. There’s no better time to get your home off gas and cut your carbon emissions.

Photo: Marcela Gara, Resource Media