Unity Blog

Going Electric

No, we’re not referring to Bob Dylan’s iconic “electric” concert at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, when he first performed live with an electric guitar. That performance was reportedly greeted with boos from folk music fans in the audience. When Unity (or other home builders, for that matter) “go electric,” we think the move is worthy of cheers. 

What do we mean when we say that a home is “all electric,” and why would we want to build homes this way? “All electric” homes have all of their energy needs provided by electricity, as opposed to fossil fuels. For many reasons, this is the healthiest, safest and most sustainable way to build homes. It’s also the best way to create a Net Zero home—one in which the home produces as much energy as it consumes. 

Most homes built today still rely on burning fossil fuels—either gas or oil—in the home to provide energy for heat, hot water and cooking. This practice dates back to a time when fossil fuels were cheap, and their negative effects on health and the environment were not well understood. We now know that burning fossil fuels inside a home creates significant health hazards in the form of pollutants such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide. This report from Stanford describing the health risks of gas stoves is just one of many to appear in recent years. 

In addition to being unhealthy for a home’s occupants, burning fossil fuels is also unhealthy for the planet, because it contributes to the buildup of greenhouse gases linked to climate change. 

At Unity, we strive to build all of our homes so that they don’t require fossil fuels for heating, hot water or cooking. Thanks to readily-available technology, doing so doesn’t require any sacrifices on the part of our clients—in fact, all-electric homes provide occupants with significant benefits in the form of healthier indoor air, more predictable energy costs, and potentially even state-of-the-art cooktops.

Tesla Powerwall battery augments solar PV system; minisplit system provides year-round comfort

Because Unity Homes are designed and built to minimize heating loads, conventional heating systems that burn fossil fuels are generally not a good fit—they tend to be oversized and inefficient. The best way to heat a low-load home is with an air source heat pump, also called a mini-split system. Using the same technology found in refrigerators, these compact units warm homes by moving heat from outside air to inside the house—even when the temperature outside is ten degrees below zero. Air source heat pumps are powered by electricity, and they have the added benefit of providing efficient cooling during the summer. 

Heat pump technology is also used in high efficiency water heaters. Unity offers these heat pump water heaters as an upgrade to our standard electric resistance water heater. Neither option requires burning fossil fuels to heat domestic hot water for sinks and showers. 

Convincing people to heat their homes and hot water with electric-based systems is generally not difficult. Talking them out of using a gas cooktop can be harder, especially if they haven’t experienced the benefits of cooking on an induction cooktop. These cooktops use innovative technology based on magnetic fields to heat only the cookware and what’s inside it.  Commercial kitchens are increasingly being outfitted with induction cooktops, and they are gradually making their way into the mainstream—with demanding home chefs and the owners of high performance homes leading the way. 

With heating/cooling, hot water and cooking all powered by electricity, Net Zero energy performance can be achieved with the addition of a photovoltaic (PV) solar power system. When the electricity used in the home is produced by the sun, the impact of the power production on the planet (and on the pocketbook) is minimized. 

At Unity, we’d like the owners of all our homes to have healthy indoor environments, and live lightly on the planet. A primary strategy for achieving this vision is to create all-electric, Net Zero homes, powered by energy from the sun. 

Bringing Bob Dylan back into the picture, these lyrics seem particularly prophetic:

Come gather ’round, people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
And you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

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