Solar Panel range by the American Public Power Association.

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The Benefits of Going All-Electric: Cleaner, Cost Effective Buildings

June 08, 2022

Buildings have lifespans.

Even the most beautiful and well-constructed skyscrapers will fall, fail, or be replaced.

All good things, even great things, must end.

If we think about a building as a functioning tool that serves people for a period of 50 to 100 years or more, its legacy will be felt by several generations. The systems that it uses to produce and consume energy will have a direct and rippled impact on occupants and the community at large.

We’re incredibly fortunate to work with people who care deeply about the short- and long-term impact of their projects. They understand that land is one of the most valuable and important non-renewable resources any community has to work with. Making sure that everything we design and build, from schools to offices and community centers, prioritizes the health and vitality of all people is an essential value we are grateful to share with our clients.

It’s from this vantage point that we strive to provide the most up-to-date, effective, and community-centric design solutions.

Stewardship is an essential component of this commitment. To us, this means that we work to develop design solutions that reduce climate impacts and promote human health, leading to a sustainable future for our planet.

When you prioritize and manage the environment, you take care of the people and animals who live in and around it, and the future generations who will live with the impact of present-day decisions.

The need for cleaner, more affordable and renewable energy is important for everyone across the economic spectrum. Yet, transitioning away from our reliance on fossil fuels is not as straightforward as flipping a switch. The gas versus electricity argument might be shrouded in misconceptions and preferences, but the truth is we have an opportunity to address much of the energy problem proactively, in a way that fully benefits all people.

To accomplish this, the two main options are:

  • Reduce the amount of fossil fuels we burn, therefore reducing the amount of carbon we emit
  • Change the type of power we use, to prioritize less carbon intensive utilities

Reducing - and one day eliminating - our reliance on fossil fuels is a big conversation with lots of rabbit holes. To narrow the focus, we wanted to share some facts about the benefits of all-electric or even hybrid electric buildings.

Long-term financial benefits

When we think about what’s good for everyone, from building owners to present and future tenants, electrical appliances are a financial boon for the long-term. Given the large-scale improvements in efficiency, electric appliances can lower home utility bills significantly.

A recent study by the Rocky Mountain Institute, which analyzed the financial and environmental economics of all-electric buildings, found that “a new all-electric, single-family home is less expensive than a new mixed-fuel home that relies on gas for cooking, space heating, and water heating.”

(Above) Units at the Farmstead, a mixed-use housing development under development by the Ginn Group, feature in-unit Energy Recover Units (ERV's), mini splits, cove electric heaters at bedrooms and Individual electric water heaters.

Long-term financial benefits

Looking specifically at dollar and environmental savings, “Net present cost savings over the 15-year period of study are as high as $6,800 in New York City, where the all-electric home also results in 81 percent lower carbon emissions over the mixed-fuel home.”

The same study found that all-electric homes in Seattle “save an average of $4,300 in net present costs (present value of all costs of installing and operating electric appliances over time, minus the current value of all the revenues that it earns over the project lifetime) and 28 tons of CO2 emissions over a period of 15-years.”

To break this cost-saving aspect down further and look at specific electric systems that offer long-term benefits, there are three common examples to consider:

Heating systems - Heat Pumps

According to a study by the eia.org, on average more than half of a US-based household’s annual energy consumption stems from two energy end uses: heating and air conditioning.

Electric heat pumps give you flexibility in location, and there are significant safety benefits by eliminating gas. We’ll talk more about safety further on, but speaking to performance, electric heat pumps use less energy and can heat homes or multifamily apartment buildings in winter or cool them down in summer by moving heat in and out of buildings – not burning gas. The technology is actually akin to a refrigerator working in reverse.

Water heating, lighting, and refrigeration – Electric Heat Pump Water Heaters: According to the same study by RMI, after space heating and cooling, the next biggest consumer system across households is water. While electric heat pump water heaters do present a generally higher price tag upfront, they more than make up for the investment in performance. By drawing heat from the air rather than generating heat, this becomes a cheaper and cleaner way to take showers and wash your dishes that makes a lasting impact on utility bills month over month – for 10 to 15 years.

Cooking Systems - Inductions Ranges or Stoves: This modernized electric range provides heat through coils underneath the surface using magnets to heat your cookware directly, controlling the amount of heat and energy used. Recognized as a cleaner, more long-term cost and energy efficient option, induction stoves are becoming increasingly popular in the US and adopted by renowned chefs.

(Above) The Farmstead's clubhouse features mini splits, 1 ERV and mechanical ventilation for attic.

It’s the way of the future

Large changes in contemporary culture don’t happen quickly. Not at first.

It takes time, reliable solutions and results to create large shifts that people can get behind. The move toward cleaner electric power is already there.

Here in Clark County, over half the utility's energy is sourced from hydropower, as well as a mix of natural gas, nuclear electricity, and wind. Nationally, renewable energy production, from sources such as solar arrays, hydro-electric dams, and wind turbines, grew more than 4% year-over-year in 2021.

This trend is expected to increase more as electric power generation moves away from fossil fuels. According to Electrifynow.net, “this trend is continuing as the price of generation from wind and solar continues to decline and more coal plants are scheduled to retire. Over 80% of new capacity added to the grid in 2021 came from renewable sources.

On a policy level, cities are already moving forward with legislation to eliminate natural gas from new construction. Many cities have proposed and passed legislation such as Berkeley, California, where the nation’s first all-electric ordinance was passed and Seattle, which requires all-electric space and water heating in new commercial and multifamily construction.

It’s Better for the Environment

The built environment produces around 75% of the greenhouse gasses in our planet’s atmosphere. If you’ve seen this stat being used over and over again, it’s because it is literally keeping architects up at night.

According to Greenbiz, “Buildings consume nearly 40 percent of energy in the United States and a whopping 70 percent of electricity in California, and the fossil fuel combustion in residential and commercial buildings accounts for 29 percent of U.S. emissions.”

At Ruth Bader Ginsburg Elementary (above) the heat pump water heater uses hot air from the school’s kitchen to assist in water heating. This is circled back into the kitchen for use, making it a highly efficient system.

 It’s Healthier

Clean air might be the most democratized commodity on the planet. It’s the one thing we all have to share and take care of together, without exception. The carbon monoxide produced by burning gas indoors can be lethal without proper venting. Burning gas stoves produce carbon monoxide, which is harmful to both human health and the environment, and has been linked to cancer, decreased lung function, nervous system damage, decreased lung function, worsening asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart disease symptoms, nervous system damage, delayed neurodevelopment in children and premature death.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Americans, on average, spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors, where the concentrations of some pollutants are often 2 to 5 times higher than typical outdoor concentrations.” The agency goes on to state that carbon monoxide poisoning results in roughly 15,000 emergency room visits and 500 deaths every year. “Combustion sources in indoor settings…. including cooking appliances and fireplaces can release harmful combustion byproducts such as carbon monoxide and particulate matter directly into the indoor environment.”

Given the existing conditions that make indoor air quality a health concern, coupled with the incremental risk of wildfires that continues to grow and make healthy oxygen a commodity, indoor air quality is a priority.

Conclusion

The electrification of buildings offers a cheaper, cleaner, and healthier way to keep the lights on and protect the future of planet Earth. This type of operational efficiency is a win for all parties: owners, tenants, building users, and the natural world. To get back to our original point, the mark we make right now will be judged decades from now.

Download our Sustainability Action Plan to read more about LSW’s commitment to climate-friendly design solutions.