With a problem as large and multi-faceted as climate change, it’s easy to quickly get overwhelmed. Should I eat less meat? Compost more? Buy less stuff? Do a better job of recycling the stuff I do buy? Stop using plastic bags? Boycott stores that still insist on using them?
And what’s the point anyway? Even if I did all of these things, how much of a difference would it really make?
These are all good questions, but as I said, the sheer quantity of them is overwhelming. It’s no wonder that climate anxiety is now a thing.
What if we could break it down into two simple tasks that would make a huge difference and that every single one of us can do (or at least contribute to)? Get these two big things done and you can rest easy knowing that you’ve done your part. Then, if you want to do the other stuff, be my guest.
And what are these two things?
- Green up the grid
- Electrify everything in your life
If we can get those two things done by 2035 (thirteen years from the time of writing), Rewiring America estimates that we can knock out around 40% of US carbon emissions. We can leave the politicians, the regulators and the business leaders to worry about the other 60%. Let’s just focus on what we can do and get it done.
It all starts with a pledge. A promise to yourself, to the planet and to future generations that, starting today, you will never buy another new machine that requires fossil fuels to run.
No, it’s not a pledge to rip out a perfectly good gas stove and replace it with an induction cooktop the day after tomorrow. Nor is it about going deep into debt to pay for an electric vehicle that you can’t really afford just yet.
It’s just a pledge that, when said gas stove eventually dies, you won’t replace it with another gas stove. And if you need to replace your car and you can’t afford a brand new EV, then at least replace it with a used car until EVs come into your price range.
The same principle applies to every fossil fuel-powered machine in your home.
Next step is to take inventory of all those machines. I like to divide it out by the areas of a house.
Garden: Lawn mowers, chain saws, leaf blowers, barbecue grills.
Garage or Driveway: Cars, motorcycles, scooters, snow blowers.
Inside the house: Stoves, clothes dryers, oil or gas furnaces.
Make a list of all the fossil-fuel burning machines in these areas of the house. My own list includes nine machines: two cars, a lawnmower, a chain saw, a stove, a grill, a clothes dryer, and a gas furnace.
The next step is to make note of the approximate age, life-expectancy, and replacement cost of each item on your list. This will allow you to set some priorities and not get caught out when an appliance that you should have known was on its last legs dies “unexpectedly”.
Make a Replacement Plan
The absolute worst time to replace an important appliance is when it breaks. A gas furnace that goes on the fritz in the middle of winter, for example, is probably going to be replaced by another gas furnace, simply because it’s the homeowner’s path of least resistance in an emergency.
Trouble is, that locks in 15-20 years of CO2 emissions for the life of that now brand-new furnace.
Much better is to determine how old the furnace is, estimate how long you think it’s going to last and come up with a plan to replace it with a heat pump sometime before it expires.
You can do this with every one of the machines in your inventory.
Some will be quite old and you’ll need to make a plan to replace them sooner rather than later. For others, you’ll have plenty of time to decide on a replacement strategy. And for some, it may not even matter.
Replacing a perfectly good three-year-old chain saw with an electric one may not be a big deal for some people. Similarly, if you’re planning to renovate your kitchen, that might be the perfect time to bring in an induction stove, even if your current gas one is only a few years old.
The key is to have a plan, give yourself a timeline (say, five years), come up with a budget and just do it.
Be on the Lookout for Incentives
And while we’re talking about budgets, let’s not pretend that replacing a dozen or more household appliances doesn’t come with considerable cost. The good news is that the price of all-electric machines from electric vehicles to induction stoves to heat pumps is coming down rapidly.
There are also plenty of incentives out there to encourage folks to switch to electric. Massachusetts, for example, is currently offering $10,000 rebates for whole home air source heat pumps applications and $15,000 for ground source ones. The State also offers interest-free loans for more modest mini split installations.
The sudden availability of these kinds of incentives could really change your timeline for making the switch. You may have heat pump installation at the bottom of your list of priorities, for instance, since it’s the biggest and most expensive change. Then a limited-time incentive comes along and persuades you that now is the time to take the leap.
Of course, switching all of your appliances to electric is only going to help if the source of that electricity is renewable energy. Rooftop solar is clearly the best way for a homeowner to generate clean power.
There are lots of different ways to go solar, many of which have zero upfront costs for homeowners. It’s possible that you could not only meet all of your current electrical needs with solar, but even meet your future, far greater needs, as you switch over to an all electric home.
So there you have it, the two things that every homeowner can do to have a huge impact in the fight against climate change. Take care of these two big things over the next few years and you won’t have to sweat the small stuff.
Michael Jones is is a solar consultant for Sunrun and the founder of SwitchingtoElectric.com, which explores the home electrification movement and helps homeowners to manage the transition. You can contact Michael here.