Power switch: Increasing home electrification

The push for all-electric homes has some steep challenges in Colorado

While some view beneficial electrification as a plus for single-family home builders as codes and consumers move from fossil fuels to electric power, others see it fraught with challenges.

“Today, builders have the option to build all-electric single-family homes if they want to provide their customers with lower cost, healthier, safer homes,” notes Katrina Managan, buildings team lead in the Office of Climate Action, Sustainability, and Resiliency for the City and County of Denver. “Consumers are getting more interested in how all-electric homes can improve safety and lower exposure to indoor air pollutants.”

Managan says studies show that in Denver, electric homes cost $2,700 to $5,300 less to build when compared to new construction mixed-fuel homes, with the transition to renewable heating and cooling delivering better outcomes at lower costs.

Ted Leighty, Colorado Association of Homebuilders CEO, says the association applauds builders such as Thrive Home Builders that build energy-efficient and zero-energy homes to meet the demand.

On the other hand, “these [types of] homes cost more to build and are less attainable to the average homebuyer,” he adds. “Since our builders are primarily working to provide attainable housing meeting the broadest consumer needs, we are very concerned about the reliability of service and cost that electrification demands will put on new housing.”

Bryan Cordill, Propane Education and Research Council’s director of residential and commercial building development, contends home builders and homebuyers want options such as fireplaces, gas ranges, outdoor kitchens and outdoor patio heaters.

The ability to go outside and be comfortable is more efficient and effective with propane versus electricity, Cordill adds. Leighty also notes an uptick in the desire for more outdoor amenities after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cordill says trying to sell customers something they don’t want is a challenge for the single-family builder.

“The large-scale development might be a little bit easier for them from the standpoint of rolling from house to house. It will maximize the efforts of a tradesperson. Builders understand the profit benefits of that option sale,” he says.

An upgrade in a custom or tract-type home would often have a 50- to 100-percent margin for the builder, Cargill notes, and adding gas and electric functionalities present more options over electric only.

Additionally, “we’re already short-handed with trade allies,” he says. “If we remove the gasfitter from the equation and increase the demand on electricians, that’s going to further impact that supply trade shortage.”

Misunderstanding propane

Cordill says it’s a misconception that propane is a “challenging” fuel.

“It’s an extremely safe fuel,” he contends, adding that safety programs are offered to industry employees, plumbers and allied trades to provide a safe experience for the consumer.

Another misconception is that electricity is clean and propane is not, he adds.

[Related: 3 ways propane helps green home building]

“Fuels are not binary,” he says. “They’re not either all clean or all dirty. Coal is the dominant factor in Colorado. Wind and solar have increased three times in the last several years in Colorado, but it still doesn’t make up the same amount of energy that natural gas or coal does.

“The misconception is the electricity we’re asking them to use would be cleaner than using propane on site. It takes about three times more energy at the power plant to get a unit of energy at the home than it does with propane. There are transportation and transmission losses.”

Cordill contends beneficial electrification impacts on the building stock will raise emissions in the short term.

Carol Brzozowski

Carol Brzozowski is a national award-winning career journalist. Her work has appeared in more than 200 media outlets.

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