How We Upgraded to High-Efficiency Electric Heat Pump Appliances
By Jahan & Brenna Shafizadeh, Burton Valley, Lafayette, CA
April 8, 2021
Our story of electrification started simply enough with a breeze. One cold winter day, my wife was walking along the outside of the house and felt a faint warm breeze coming from a subfloor vent. It struck her as odd that she would feel warm air coming from under the house. I thought it was impossible. There are no vents, registers, or heat sources near where she felt the breeze. Nothing. I though the sun might have hit her hand or the weather was playing tricks on her. Something.…
But the next day she felt it again, and again. By the 3rd occurrence, it felt like something was amiss. But inside the house nothing was broken. Heat still flowed into the house. No major visible catastrophe. Our heat bill was usually a little high, but ‘meh’ we just like to stay warm.
The following week I needed to find our luggage and went into our under-house storage unit. I got to the luggage and then “Bam!”, I too felt a warm breeze. What the heck?!?!?!? I stopped what I was doing and began trying to find the breeze. I poked around and found the source. A mouse had chewed a hole in one of the ducts running into the far bedroom. I was floored. 😊. I never heard of mice chewing through ducting. Makes sense, nice warm tunnel for them to hang out in during the winter. Cool pipe during the summer. Perfect for anybody to move into. I thought about quick fixes to solve this problem. The old stand-by ‘duct tape’ was made for these types of problem. It’s a duct. I have duct tape. (Marriage made in heaven.) However, as I started to explore solutions I thought: ‘if I was a mouse would I like only a front door???’ I went around to the other vents and began looking for other holes, and my mouse thinking paid off. I found mouse-size holes throughout my duct system. Not only did the mice make a front door, but they chewed out a side door, a gate, service entry, etc. Over 50% of my vents had holes and I was doing a very nice job of heating the underside of my house, as well as the mice. And so it began….
Our electrification journey was a journey to improve our living conditions, do something good for the environment, and save some money along the way. We first started by replacing all the ducting under the house. While we were doing the ducting we also made the decision to insulate all the floors. Doing the insulation and the ducting at the same time was a natural fit. We had to touch every room in the house for ducting so why not do both projects at the same time? When we were done with the ducting we gave our furnace a review. Our furnace was a bit older, and we’d had a major repair the year before, but we watched a presentation from BayRen on their programs and incentives and our interest was piqued. Now we heard of heat pumps in past, and as an engineer, I understood the fundamentals of how they generate heat. But the latest heat pumps are generations ahead of whether they use to be. Gone are the days of laying the piping in the ground! And they are now super-efficient with significantly improved controllers to reduce cost and maximize heat transfer/home heating.
We asked three contractors to come out and provide bids and we found somebody who had an eye towards cost savings, while providing top of the line equipment, and patiently sitting down and answering our flurry of questions. Within the next 30 days we swapped out our furnace and air conditioner for a heat pump. The heat pump was all that was promised and more. Quiet, predictable, carefree, mouse free. We also insulated our attic because the BayRen rebates closely matched the cost of the work itself (and nobody turns down free insulation).
Our last non-electric major household appliance was our water heater. When most of the equipment in your house runs off electricity you bite the bullet and get the rest of it done. It just feels simpler to be on a common energy source. As a next step we went all in. We bought a heat-pump water heater installed it and waited for the savings…. (I will add that we previously put solar panels on our roof as a way of off-setting our electric costs. Solar panel costs are decreasing by the year and when we first moved in that was one of the first things on the list. We installed solar panels before we even knew what “electrification” was.)
Over the last year we have put in place bits and pieces of our electric plan, which started off as a non-electric plan, but as we moved forward and found costs savings we did more and more. We are now almost completely off gas, and will now try to get off the grid by installing a whole house battery to get us through outages. Ours is not a common approach to electrification, but in the end makes our house and home a better place to live.
Tips & Resources
· BayRen energy upgrade rebates
· High efficiency electric heat pump HVAC unit: CARRIER 24VNA4 Infinity
· HVAC installer: Building Performance Professionals
· Electric Heat Pump Water Heater: Rheem Prestige 65 gallon - self installed