Local builders, architects and Healdsburg residents gathered at the community center on Sept. 24 for an energetic discussion on the feasibility of the reach code, all electric options and cost effectiveness in a city led workshop with Healdsburg’s Utility Conservation Analyst Felicia Smith and other experts in the field.
The workshop featured Smith, Archamy Consulting technical expert on climate change response Amy Rider and Ted Tiffany, an energy analyst and director of sustainability for consulting and engineering firm Guttman & Blaevoet.
While the most common questions straight out of the gate were in regard to cost efficiency, Smith started the evening talking about the basics of a reach code.
A reach code goes above state requirements on energy use to try and break dependency on fossil fuels by mandating that new construction for residential or commercial use either mixed gas and electric, partial electric or all electric cooking and heating options.
A mixed reach code would rely on natural gas and electricity, a partial option would utilize an electric space and water heater but would allow for a gas stove and fireplace, and an all-electric code would nix gas use completely.
Smith explained that in order to pass a reach code it must be proven to be cost effective, have a three-year sunset upon which a renewal would be needed and would have to be discussed over two public hearings before adoption.
She said the basic principles of the reach code are to preserve low-cost compliance options and to minimize construction costs, encourage healthier, safer and lower building emissions.
“Sixty-one percent of GreenHouse Gas (GHG) emissions in Healdsburg come from on road transportation and 28% comes from building/home energy use,” Smith said, citing a 2015 GHG inventory study.
Ten percent comes from solid waste, according to the study.
In terms of cost efficiency, according to Smith and Healdsburg Utility Director Terry Crowley, all electric would be cost efficient in that not running gas lines and hook ups to new homes would create a significant upfront savings.
The long-term savings of all-electric would eventually surpass the upfront costs of purchase and installation.
For appliance efficiency, Healdsburg Electric would have 250% system efficiency while PG&E natural gas has only 80% system efficiency. Rooftop solar would also yield 250% system efficiency according to Healdsburg Electric average price numbers (figures reflect a blended tier rate based on residential averages).
Electric tech options
Rider discussed all electric technologies for heating and cooling, cooking and clothes drying.
These include induction cooktops, heat pump water heaters, ductless heating and cooling systems that are wall mounted.
Rider said Carbon Dioxide heat pumps and water heaters are now coming on the market, and use Carbon Dioxide in a more “green” way as a refrigerant to heat water.
But what about gas fireplaces?
Rider said this is often the item that people are the most leery about giving up.
She said there are good options that can replace a gas fireplace and still give off that cozy atmosphere. There are units, which while they don’t give off heat, use LED lights or water vapor to create the illusion of flames.
In terms of going all-electric for cooking there are the options of an electric stove or an induction cook-top.
And for folks who are unsure about cooking with an induction stove, Rider mentioned a city of Sacramento Utility Department study that surveyed people on their use of induction or electric, and most of the people who had the opportunity to use it said they were pleased with it.
Ty Benoit, a former Wikiup resident who lost her home in the Tubbs Fire, is working on creating an all-electric home in Healdsburg and said she loves induction cooking.
“I can tell you from personal experience that induction cooktops are awesome,” Benoit said.
Smith mentioned that the city has a program where they will loan out an induction stovetop for a trial period for those who are interested in giving it a try.
Transitioning to all electric won’t only merit the need for appliance changes, but will also merit the need for a larger electrical panel.
Rider said that switching to a larger panel is the biggest cost.
Tiffany emphasized while materials and installation cost may be pricey, over time the long-term savings of going all-electric would eventually surpass upfront costs.
He added that in addition to taking these steps, strengthening insulation in attic spaces, windows and walls works hand in hand to improve efficiency and cost effectiveness over time.
For a detailed run-down on incremental costs for an all electric home versus a mixed fuel home, take a look at the chart above.
Following the presentation, Benoit shared her experience on working to turn a regular home into an all-electric one.
“I came to the all-electric aspect of this maybe a little bit differently than some other people have,” Benoit said. “I put in an induction cooktop in my home in Wikiup and I had it for six weeks before the Tubbs Fire came along and took it.”
“When we decided that we weren’t going to rebuild there and we were going to live up to our moral imperative — I’m very active the climate movement and I really felt like I needed to do more than what I was doing, and that’s what led me to Healdsburg and to the idea of all-electric,” she said.
Of the process, she said, “I will tell you that one of the things that I know many of you will miss maybe the most more than your gas stove is maybe your fireplace. Giving up a gas fireplace is a big deal, I understand, but I’ve also looked at some of the new technologies and a couple of other fire survivors who have rebuilt in Kenwood have put in some of these optimist fireplaces and I can tell you that they are pretty cool.”
“I’m trying to live up to have a much smaller footprint,” Benoit said.
In terms of the city developing a reach code, the next step will be to garner input from the community on which reach code option the city should explore.
Attendees were asked to fill out a survey card. The card asks if the city should adopt a reach code, which reach code option they’d prefer — mixed, electric space and water or all electric, if the reach code should impact major renovations or remodels and whether or not the city should be a leader in GHG emission reductions.
“We really want to hear direct feedback from you so we can bring that back to city council and start to make a recommendation,” Smith said.