Climate & Clean Energy
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⚡️ Electrify Your Home

Published on
September 26, 2022
Show notes

For decades Americans have relied on wood, oil, and gas to power, heat, and cool our homes, and the water we use to drink, cool, and bathe in. But these things have helped fuel our climate crisis – by some estimates, residential energy use accounts for about 20% of US greenhouse gas emissions.

That’s a lot.

Not to mention, burning wood inside and using gas stoves and fireplaces, and water heaters are just straight-up terrible for our health. 

Great news though.

An electric future awaits us, and now, having passed the IRA, there are a huge variety of rebates to help you electrify your home, to become less dependent on the grid, to save money over time, and breathe cleaner air inside AND outside.

But where do you start? It’s a great question, and one I’ve been wrestling with recently.

I want to make my home reliable, resilient, and healthier. And together, with you and millions of other Shit Givers, I want to take a huge chunk out of US emissions, to slow the climate crisis. 

But in order to do so, I needed some help. 

So I called John Semmelhack.

John is co-owner, with Neil Comparetto, of The Comfort Squad LLC, a home performance contracting + consulting firm serving Charlottesville, VA, and Richmond, VA. John is a pioneering practitioner of the "electrify everything” movement and is the self-declared “Minister of Heat Pumps” for the Southeast U.S.

And his company, The Comfort Squad, helps clients create healthy, comfortable homes that run on clean electricity. 

Today we’re going to take you on one of his standard home performance assessments and paint a picture for you of the healthier, all-electric home.

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Links:

  • Follow John on Twitter
  • Follow The Comfort Squad on Twitter and check out their website
  • Check out the federal and state financial incentives to electrify your home
  • Read Rewiring America's guide to electrify your home
  • Get an Ecobee smart thermostat
  • Find an induction cooktop
  • Find an electric or heat pump water heater
  • Electrify your apartment building with Bloc Power
  • Save energy and money with Ohm Connect
  • Buy a solar powered battery with Humless
  • Pre-order your smart home battery
  • Find your local solar farm
  • Get solar power for your home
  • Follow Dr Leah Stokes on Twitter
  • Follow Emily Grubert on Twitter
  • Find out why SoCal Gas sucks

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Transcript

Quinn:

Look, yes. Jet packs aren't really something you can get at Target yet. And while there are those skateboards, they got the big wheels in the middle, I think they're the closest thing we're probably going to get to hover boards. The point is, Marty McFly's future isn't quite what we were promised. Welcome to Important, Not Important. My name is Quinn Emmett, and this is science for people who give a shit. So on the one hand, in almost every conceivable measurement, life is better for most people if only relatively and maybe momentarily across the whole world. Why? Because air quality, nutrition, public health, medicine, vaccines, clean water, shelter, those things are still a nightmare for a lot of folks, especially folks in poverty. The risks of course, aren't equitably distributed. And also, we stand on the precipice of a very uncertain climate future during the mid to late stages of a pandemic.

Quinn:

We don't totally have a hold on. The point is there's great news. Nearly all the problems we've made for ourselves present opportunities for multi-solving. For example, fighting for cleaner air, not only slows global heating, but straight up makes you healthier, improves kids test scores and makes cities and towns more pleasurable to visit and live in. And the same goes for your home. For decades, Americans have relied on wood, oil, and gas to power, heat, and cool our homes. And the same for the water we use to drink and to get cool and to bathe in for those of us that bathe. But these things have also helped fuel the climate crisis. By some estimates, residential energy use accounts for about 20% US greenhouse gas emissions. That's a lot. Think about it. If my son pees on the toilet, one out of every five times, he goes to the bathroom over time.

Quinn:

It's just a lot. Look, not to mention burning wood inside and using gas stoves and fireplaces and water heaters, we now know is just straight up terrible for our health. Again, great news though. An electric future awaits us. And now having passed the IRA or Ira, there are huge variety of rebates to help you electrify your home to become less dependent on the grid, to save money over time, to breathe cleaner air inside and outside. Where do you start? It's a great question. And it's one I've been wrestling with myself recently. I want to make my home more reliable, more resilient and healthier. And together with you and millions of other shit givers, I want to take a huge chunk out of US emissions to slow the climate crisis. But in order to do so, I needed some help. So I called John Semmelhack, and he is my guest today.

Quinn:

John is the co-owner with Neil Comparetto of the Comfort Squad, LLC, a home performance contracting and consulting firm, serving Charlottesville, Virginia and Richmond, Virginia. John's a pioneering and practitioner of the Electrify Everything movement and is the self declared Minister of Heat Pumps for the Southeast United States. And his company, the Comfort Squad, helps clients create healthy, comfortable homes that can run on clean electricity. So today, we're going to take you on one of his standard performance assessments. It's really cool. And we're going to talk air conditioners and furnaces and heat pumps and water heaters and window units and electric car chargers and radiators, and smart electric panels, induction stoves, and sucking all the air out of my house. It's a whole thing.

Quinn:

The point is, John is a tremendous, thoughtful, funny, helpful human. And I couldn't think of anyone better to help paint a picture for you of the healthier all electric American home. Now, as a reminder, you can e-mail me feedback or suggestions at Quinn@importantnotimportant.com or you can send them on Twitter at @QuinnEmmett or at @ImportantNotImp, where I mostly tweet about injustice and being exhausted. Let's go talk to John.

Quinn:

John, welcome to the show.

John Semmelhack:

Thanks, Quinn.

Quinn:

I'm so excited to do this after you so kindly took the time to go through my house, which clearly needs to be torn apart from bottom to top, considering your report. It's all good. It's good.

John Semmelhack:

I wouldn't go that far. That would be a climate disaster to tear it down and rebuild it.

Quinn:

True.

John Semmelhack:

But there's definitely some good things to fix, some great opportunities, as I like to call them.

Quinn:

That's a great way of phrasing it and how I'm going to have to sell it to my wife. But John, I do like to start with one important question to set the tone for our conversation. Instead of, Hey, what's your entire life story? How did you get to the place where you're America's preeminent on the ground man for rebuilding every home in the country. I like to ask, John, why are you vital to the survival of the species? And I encourage you to be bold and honest, because you're here for a reason.

John Semmelhack:

Oh, thanks. Oh, vital. I guess my work, we're a small part of being a postcard from the future in terms of the homes that we work in and in terms of heat pumps, especially here in Virginia, where heat pumps are normal. It's not something that's wild and out of the ordinary and they kind of cost normal. So we're kind of giving everyone else who is new to heat pumps across the country, across north America, a view into what that looks like and how they can work and how they can operate and make for more comfortable, healthier homes that run on clean energy.

Quinn:

Sounds good to me. I think we're done here. That's great. Virginia's interesting and obviously, getting warmer. But we've got parts of the state closer to where you are and out in the mountains or in Roanoke that are inherently a little colder and for longer, and we've got the beach and we've got where I am in between. But we get all four season. It's interesting. And when you get the arguments about, "Heat pump's don't work in the cold," or people don't know that they also do air conditioning. It is an interesting test ground to say, look for a lot of folks, this really makes a lot of sense. So anyways, we'll get into all that. Thank you for your answer. I appreciate it. Postcard from the future, man.

Quinn:

That's a good one. So folks and John, we talked about this a little bit offline, in light of going over my home and you, letting me pester you with questions for four hours while you did that. And then this conversation and in the meantime, our good friend, the IRA came out of nowhere basically. Or I will refer to it as Ira, and it is signed. It is on its way. Not everything is active yet. There's more to come. We're going to give you all kinds of show notes and stuff. But I want to approach this conversation as if we are implementing IRA step by step throughout. Obviously they vary enormously, but an American household by way of one of your, do you call an inspection? What should we call it?

John Semmelhack:

Home performance consultation.

Quinn:

Performance consultation. So much better.

John Semmelhack:

Yeah.

Quinn:

So much better.

John Semmelhack:

Nobody wants an inspection or an audit or things like that. So yeah.

Quinn:

Last time I heard performance consult, that was when I was in the corporate world and it didn't usually end up great. American households can vary enormously. I'm sure you've done the gamut, and I've lived in a bunch from ownership, renters, suburbia, farms, apartments, condos, and all this. But they're generally sectors appliances, et cetera, that are applicable to most. And a lot of which are covered in some way by IRA.

John Semmelhack:

Absolutely. Yeah.

Quinn:

A lot of that will be distributed by the states, these rebates and things like that. But even if it's not super clear to you folks, by the end of this conversation, do these subsidies apply to me? Yes or no. We're going to give you all sorts of tools. There's ways to figure it out. And those tools are honestly only going to get better and better because this is the direction. This is where we're going and it's going to be so comprehensive. So what I want to do is really try to bring this to life today. 

John Semmelhack:

Nine billion just for the rebate programs, a hypothetically unlimited amount of money in the tax credits. There's no cap for the heat pump tax credits. And then there's, I think, it's going to be a real key leverage point or catalyst is the 27 billion in the green bank loan program. So I think when you within estate effectively combine the rebate programs that they're going to manage with a solid green bank program. I think there's incredible opportunities there.

Quinn:

Absolutely. I don't know where that number came from in my notes, I'm going to be honest there. But the point is for folks, there's a lot of money and like you said, the green bank's going to be incredible, especially for low income households and local projects and things like that. But this applies to your range, your ovens, your cook tops, your heat pumps, your heat pump clothes dryers, water heaters, all kinds of stuff. So again, these are nitty gritty details. I want to make clear again, folks, you don't have to memorize these things, but they're going to be available. And John tear me apart wherever you can like you just did. To households, making up to 150% of their local area, median income, which is a number calculated by the government, the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Every year, there's a tool you can figure out where you qualify in that.

John Semmelhack:

Yeah. There's a map that you can click on your local area and it'll give you that number. Yeah.

Quinn:

Yeah, you'll have a good idea that, and obviously those things can change well. As well, and it's recalculated every year. The rebates can, I think, only be used once per household. Is that correct?

John Semmelhack:

I think that's correct.

Quinn:

It sounds like best case scenario should be deducted by your retailer or contractor when you buy or install your appliance instead of you having to file for a refund. Does that sound correct?

John Semmelhack:

That's correct. Yeah. There's probably some paperwork in terms of income qualification. But yeah.

Quinn:

So rebates apply to the cost of an appliance as well as the cost associated with installation, which are big wins. Again, low income households. So those making below 80% of their area median income, not average are potentially eligible, it sounds like, to have a hundred percent of their costs covered while moderate income, essentially everyone else who's actually eligible or potentially eligible for up to 50% of their costs covered. And I think the rebates, like you said, a potentially unlimited amount of money, but each rebate themselves is capped at a specific dollar amount. Is that correct, as opposed to a percentage off?

John Semmelhack:

That's correct. Each appliance is capped at a particular dollar amount and then there's an overall cap for the entire project, which is for $14,000 on the electrification rebate side of things.

Quinn:

Okay. So that's helpful. That's a huge amount of money for-

John Semmelhack:

Yeah. It can go a long way.

Quinn:

Basically everyone.

John Semmelhack:

Yeah.

Quinn:

To break that down a little bit, this isn't comprehensive and again, not all of this is live yet. Much of it isn't happening until next year and the state's got to figure their shit out. Those eligible could get up to, I think, it's $840 off cost of an induction, cooktop or range, electric oven, electric key pump, clothes dryer, all these where they apply with energy star for installation and electrical work. It looks like the rebates cover up to $500 for contractors, $1600 for installation, air ceiling and ventilation, up to $2,500 for upgrades to your electrical wiring. Don't skip that. And says up to $4,000 for an upgrade to your electric load service center. John, what is that?

John Semmelhack:

That's your electrical panel or your circuit breaker box or your fuse box depending on what you grew up calling it.

Quinn:

Sure. Great. It's like one of those tests like where are you from, is what do you call like Twizzlers, except for this will save the planet. Also, this is not just for suburbia folks for landlords and renters also applies multi-family buildings for at least 50% of the residents or low or moderate income households. As well as folks living in US territories, Puerto Rico and two federally recognized Indian tribes. All great. Even better. Again, you don't have to remember any of this stuff. I certainly can't. John and I were talking about brain fog. I don't know. I haven't had COVID, I don't think. But I did have three decades of chlorine exposure and two years of rugby and three kids. So who can know?

Quinn:

All kinds of tools we're going to put in the show notes. DSIRE can check for policies near you, both right now and later. Again, those will be implemented state by state, by an administration today, launched what they said, version one, cleanenergy.gov. And of course our friends at rewiring America are always on top of it. They have an amazing calculator to help you out with all this stuff.

John Semmelhack:

Yeah. Really helpful.

Quinn:

Which I do need you to remember folks, solar, geothermal and battery rebates, John, are available now. But most of the rest of these won't kick in until next year, is that correct?

John Semmelhack:

So those will be tax credits, not rebates.

Quinn:

Tax credits. Okay.

John Semmelhack:

From the federal government. So that is important. It's not a rebate.

Quinn:

Right. Not a point of sale.

John Semmelhack:

Unfortunately, you can only get that money if you have income tax liability. So if you make enough money in the year in terms of income, then you can get that tax credit. The tax credit can be rolled over, I believe, into the future all the way up until 2032, 2033, something like that.

Quinn:

Interesting. Okay.

John Semmelhack:

So if you don't have enough tax liability right now, you might have that in the future. So that's just something to remember.

Quinn:

Awesome. And the one thing I didn't really plan to discuss today, though, I guess it is part of the home is EVs really. And those have changed a little bit because both there's some point of sale rebates now, but also they apply to use cars. And again, I know it is means tested to a varying degree, but that is part of the home, because you're going to have to charge it. And that's where we're heading towards. If you have anything you want to add there at any point, then we can get into it, but it is more focused on the home itself.

John Semmelhack:

Right. Yeah. I think the thing to think about, especially with the electrical upgrades and the rebate money for those electrical upgrades is thinking long term about future EV charging for households, then that have cars and have either EVs now or EVs in their future. So putting that infrastructure in place and packaging it together, getting the electrician to do all the work that needs to be done now and getting it funded in part through the rebates.

Quinn:

Sure. And again, folks, this is all going to become much more commonplace, much easier. Installers are going to become much more familiar with all these things, if not supportive of them finally, and more standardized and cheaper. But the point is, you've got some time to get your ducks in a row to figure out how and where you're going to go electric to find to the right installers for you. Should you wait because more volume means prices will come down overall, maybe. But at the same time, as we all know, appliances are backed up, as it is, installers are backed up as it is in a lot of places. There's a bit of a ticking clock with this whole electrify, everything ASAP situation. Let's paint a picture for folks. So John, and you can just use my house as an example if you'd like, but knock, knock, you're at my door. Welcome to my home. Tell me where do we start? How does this begin?

John Semmelhack:

Oh, sure. Yeah, we can start with just a survey of what, have in terms of major equipment, how old it is, what fuels are powering those devices. And then from our standard point, we're also not just thinking about electrification as the only end goal that we're talking about, but we're also thinking about how to make a home healthier and more comfortable for everybody who lives there at the same time. So we're thinking about the comfort of the homes, so the insulation, air tightness, window performance, shading, things like that, how heating cooling is distributed through the different rooms. In addition to the boxes themselves, the heat pumps and the cooking appliances and the water heaters and so on. So yeah, we could start by just talking about what you have in your house. Maybe the biggest impacts that you can have are going to be on the heating and cooling systems from a climate standpoint. However, from an indoor air quality standpoint, the biggest thing you can probably do is swap out your kitchen cooking if you have gas cooking right now. So where do you want to start today, Quinn?

Quinn:

That's a great question. So we're standing in the foyer and I just want to be clear for myself. We're standing in my house and for the people out there, your goal isn't just to walk around and go, "Your air conditioning's old, you should replace it with an electric one." It's to do a comprehensive look at air leakage and all the different ways that, like you said, the larger climate can be affected, but also the comfort of my own home. And as we discussed, when we went through my actual house, we all have places that we either cannot afford to change or we make excuses for, or every time we walk out the room, we go, "Why the hell's every room so much colder than the other ones?" And you're like, "I don't know. There's probably no insulation back there." Or it's probably just more complicated than that. Or it's probably more simple than that, but everyone's got places where they would like at least to improve the comfort of their own home.

John Semmelhack:

Exactly. And that stuff can be fixed. You don't have to live that way.

Quinn:

Right.

John Semmelhack:

Sometimes it's really, and some houses it's really complex and expensive to do a real fix, but there are always ways to make improvements to all of those rooms and get them closer to where you'd like them to be.

Quinn:

Okay. So let's take a walk up. Let's go look at my HVAC system and let's assume I've got one unit for the home. So we go up and not unlike mine, it's whatever that was 12, 13 years old, something like that. It's running, but I've got question marks every night when it's hot. "Is this the night that my family cooks?" And I love my local installers are great. They're not big electric folks, but they've been very helpful when things go down. You come and have a look at what I've got. What is the standard, I guess, life expect expectancy for a basic HVAC unit, a heating and a cooling unit?

John Semmelhack:

For heat pumps and air conditioners, that's about 15 years is average lifespan. For furnaces, it's a little bit longer, I think, closer to 20 years. And it's not always that something dies at that point, but that's when folks choose to replace it sometimes as an emergency. Sometimes they do it in advance. But 15 to 20 years is that general lifespan.

Quinn:

And besides all of these incentives for me to do it, both comfort of my own home, saving some money overall because it's electric and not gas or oil as some people still are in the Northeast or some other folks, it's going to make my home more comfortable. How might I notice that my current system, let's assume it's gas fired, is on its way out? If not tomorrow, like you said. If people are doing it preemptively, why might they do that? Besides these new incentives are out there? What might they notice that makes them go, "Well, maybe it's time to actually do this?" And now this is available to them.

John Semmelhack:

Oh, that's a good question. I think a lot of times there aren't really any big queues until something apart fails or a significant part fails on the appliance. There definitely are queues that something is either incorrectly specified or commissioned on a system, such as a common one in the wintertime with furnaces is that furnaces are significantly oversized. So the furnace will run for five or 10 minutes and then be off for 15 or 20 minutes and then run for five minutes and then be off. And it's kind of like stop and go traffic. It's less efficient for the furnace. And it's also less comfortable because your indoor temperature, your indoor comfort levels start going up and down, up and down with those swings in temperature and that blast of heat that the furnace is putting out.

Quinn:

Let me ask you this, because again, let's assume the bulk of people, and I know heat pumps are more prominent than people think. But let's assume the bulk of people are running off gas because of the way America has built infrastructure in the past 25 years. You mentioned it most commonly it's being oversized. And I remember, I think I asked you this question and not to put anyone on the spot, not you, but the legacy installers. Why would they sell me an oversized unit? Is that just measurement poorly executed or is there an incentive on their end to do that? Or is it consumers are nervous that it won't be enough? How does that usually work itself out? Why am I stuck with something that's bigger?

John Semmelhack:

Yeah, I think it's a combination of factors. One of them is that in terms of furnaces, on those really, really cold days, those close to record temperature cold days, which in Charlottesville is almost minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The installers are already incredibly busy doing emergency repairs for people whose equipment have failed. And they don't want to have to take a call from a customer whose furnace is only running at 65 degrees when they set it at 70. They don't want to take those nuisance calls. And so if they just bump up that heating capacity a little bit, then they know for sure that even on whatever the weather can throw at the house, that the furnace is going to be able to cover the load.

Quinn:

Even if it's inefficiently doing so?

John Semmelhack:

Yeah. So what you wind up with is systems that can cover just about any conceivable though, that the weather can give you, but it operates uncomfortably or less than optimum comfort and efficiency, 99 point something percent of the hours of the 20 years that it's in operation.

Quinn:

Wow, good times.

John Semmelhack:

Yeah.

Quinn:

So let's say mine is again, I know mine was a heat pump, but imagine it wasn't. 12 years old. You're like, "Look, it's not going to die tomorrow." I mean, shit happens. But we've got these rebates available to folks in the coming year. Besides you've already convinced me to go with a heat pump to go electric with this. How would you measure what's required for my space? Where would you start?

John Semmelhack:

So we need to know the peak heating loads and the peak cooling loads for that space so that we can select appropriate equipment to recommend and give you quotes for that equipment. So we need to know surface areas where heat flows. So surface areas of walls and windows and doors and roofs or ceilings and floors as well as insulation values, to the best extent that we can assess them, given that some things are covered up by drywall and siding and whatnot. And then a very important measure is to know the air leakage or the air tightness of a house. And we can actually measure that with something that's called the blower door test.

Quinn:

I think it's so cool by the way.

John Semmelhack:

So we use a fan to create an artificial pressure difference between inside and outside. And we measure the amount of air that's required in cubic feet per minute, to maintain that pressure difference. And then we can compare that from house to house. We can enter that number into our computer simulations that help us estimate, okay, if your house has this much air leakage, that's going to equate to this much heat loss from air leakage on a very cold day or heat gain in the summertime on a really hot day.

Quinn:

So I'm going to get to how you measure, like you said, floor space and installation, everything. I got to tell people about this blower door thing. So guys, they put this thing in the door and you think you just got a big fan off my porch. What's this going to do? It's wild. How this thing works. Remember we had a contractor working upstairs who was punching a hole in the exterior wall. And he said, it was like a hurricane coming through that wall, the way this thing worked. You explained it to me well there, and I remember taking notes and I looked back at him and I was like, "Man, I don't get it." The fan starts going. Tell me how it works and tell me what exactly how you measure that.

John Semmelhack:

Sure. So we have a hose that runs to the outside and then another hose in the inside. And so those two are measuring the pressure difference between inside and outside. And then the fan is set up to send air out of the house. So we're blowing air out of the house, every single cubic foot per minute, cubic feet per minute, that we send out of the house is replaced by air coming in. So air in equals air out. So if we send 10 out through the fan, 10 is coming in from somewhere from the outside, through the crawl space, through the basement, through the attic, through the walls, through gaps around the doors. And it all adds up to 10. So in your case, it was a number much larger than 10.

Quinn:

Well, we discovered I had a bit of an issue. And do you want to tell the people what that was? Because I had no idea, but when you say you're like, "Oh, shit, of course. It's a huge hole that's there all the time."

John Semmelhack:

Right. Yeah. So you have a gas fireplace and I believe the way a lot of the building codes or regulations in different areas are for natural draft gas fireplaces like yours, the flu, which is a manually operated flu. But you're required when you install these fireplaces, you're required to put in a limiter that doesn't allow the flu to close all the way, because with a gas fire, you're not going to get a kind of smoke that you would get from a wood fire. You may not notice if your fire is actually not drafting up the flu. And so that's a life and death, carbon monoxide. I'm not sure if it's the building regulations are that you have to leave an opening. But that creates a huge whole year round in your house, huge air leakage number from that open flu.

Quinn:

Right. So that makes a lot of sense. And again, in the realm of control, what you can control, I have no interest in carbon monoxide poisoning. It sounds like a lovely way to go if you're going to go, but I'm not interested in that yet. Come to me in a little while. But at the same time, I can't change your regulations. I can't do anything like that. So obviously I do want it to remain partially open, because like you said, there could be a leak somewhere, same thing with hot water heater and your stove, whatever it might be.

John Semmelhack:

Right.

Quinn:

So how do you then compensate for that? As you are looking at the perspective unit you would recommend that I purchase? Do you just go, that's just part of their air leakage, right?

John Semmelhack:

It is. Yeah. Yeah. It is. So there's definitely some big room for improvement. And I think you have some plans for finishing off some attic space where that particular unit lives right now. And that's another big opportunity for air tightness and insulation improvement. So one of the things that we do when we do these heating and cooling load calculations is we'll do a calculation run with the house as is, and then we can do another run with some improvements and we can do kind of compare A to B, to C to D and talk about the implications in terms of equipment sizing, for instance.

Quinn:

And just to cover the last measurement things you did besides the cool blower door, just talk to me real quick about besides some of the other... You said it happens, but it was interesting. So for instance, I have ducting rung along my unfinished attic ceiling, which is going to catch a lot of heat in the summer. It's so hot and very cold in the winter, so you're losing both. But you also was it infrared used on the walls to check for insulation? Just briefly just tell me how you get the full picture. And then lastly smart thermostats and how important those are.

John Semmelhack:

Your walls because it's an existing home, unless you happen to have a piece of dry wall on your walls missing where we could see the insulation. We can't really see in there. But we can with an infrared camera or a thermal imaging camera. So I have one that's a nice low cost one that attaches to my phone. So it uses the phone's camera and the infrared technology at the same time. And I can scan the walls as long as we have enough temperature difference between inside and outside, and get a good idea of whether or not your walls are insulated. If they have some insulation or no insulation or perhaps if you have insulation, but you have big gaps in missing insulation, in different spots.

Quinn:

It's like looking at predator. It's very exciting.

John Semmelhack:

It is.

Quinn:

It's the same life or death stakes here. Okay, great. And then you were really excited because I've got ecobee's. Tell me why smart thermostats, not just going forward, but historically for your assessment are important?

John Semmelhack:

So I have to clarify, right now in our opinion, it really is limited to ecobee.

Quinn:

Oh, okay. Shout out.

John Semmelhack:

Because, unfortunately, I don't get paid by ecobee, not to say that on big podcasts. But they're the only ones in terms of kind of popular Wi-Fi or smart thermostats that give you full access to your historical data. So you can look at your system, run times in five minute intervals, going back as long as you have had the thermostat. And so that's what I did with your thermostat. So you gave me access to it. And I went in and I could see on those really hot days, this summer, how your system was performing and that it was just slightly losing ground, but not by much on those really hot days.

Quinn:

Considering.

John Semmelhack:

And similarly, I could go back to the winter time and see with your furnace that even though in your particular case, your furnace is not drastically oversized, it's pretty much right about right on. So on those very cold days, which where you are is not that cold, but low 20.

Quinn:

Yeah. We'll get some. With wind chill, it gets chilly, but we're not talking about the Northeast here.

John Semmelhack:

But your furnace was running for several hours in a row without any breaks. And that's a good indication of a right size furnace.

Quinn:

Okay. That's really helpful. Ecobee, if you would like to sponsor the show, come on out, big fan. All kidding aside, that's got to be so illustrative of you to look at like, "Oh, this is literally the day to day of..."

John Semmelhack:

Absolutely. Yeah. We can do the computer simulations of the house based on the measurements that we take and what we think the insulation is, but nothing beats the real world performance of the actual equipment that's installed right now in terms of looking at, okay, where are we right now? And what systems are going to be appropriate going forward?

Quinn:

And we'll get to this for sure as you tour our home here, but it reminds me of the push to, and I couldn't be more excited about really putting in smart electrical panels that help us really understand our load and our day to day of how it's being used. But also again, future prepping them for charging all of these new electrical appliances and also an EV and things like that in an intelligent way, maybe pulling from solar, maybe pulling from batteries, et cetera, et cetera. It's the great quote. You can't change what you don't measure. I don't know. Something like that. You get the point.

John Semmelhack:

Yeah. Something like that. Yeah. The smart electrical panels are, I think, there's some really cool, exciting things that we will be able to do. Everything's coming slower than practitioners like us would like to see, especially in terms of integrating all of this stuff with our utilities and being able to have a house that actually can be a contributor to the grid on those really nasty days instead of just being a drain. And then also getting paid a little bit for it to help offset the cost.

Quinn:

Sure. Should we focus on panels, which I think is the brain in the house or would you like to come back to those as we kind of go bit by bit?

John Semmelhack:

Let's jump over to panels because one of the things that we have to look at when we are changing from a furnace and air conditioner like we're talking about, and when we're switching over to a heat pump, the heat pump is going to use more electricity than the furnace and air conditioner does in the wintertime. And has different just wiring requirements in terms of how it gets wired into the circuit breakers in the electrical panel. So that's something that we would have to take a look at is go down to your basement, look at the electrical panel, look at the current service capacity in terms of amperage. Look to see what circuit breaker size and wire size is currently being used for the furnace blower and for the air conditioner outdoor unit that you have now. And then see if some of that is reusable for the future heat pump system or if it needs to be upgraded.

John Semmelhack:

So in your case, we have the wiring for the air conditioner outdoor unit that can be reused. So we don't need any changes to the circuit, the circuit breaker, or the wiring for the outdoor unit. For the indoor unit, which for heat pumps, that's called an air handler. That's the thing that moves the air through the duct work for your house. That requires a new 240 volt circuits. So it's a double circuit breaker with two wires coming out of it. Whereas your furnace currently is only using one wire single pole, 120 volt-circuit. So what we need to do is find an empty slot adjacent to the furnace or reconfigure some things to create two empty slots within the electrical panel. So we know we need to do that for the heat pump and we're going to do this similar analysis for some of the other devices and then communicate that and start talking with an electrician about all the work that needs to be done to make those upgrades.

Quinn:

That's super helpful. And that's just to replace for, with electrical appliances, and to future proof these things to really make your home more intelligent besides just the colorful light bulbs that my kids love and break all the time. It's building a real brain that cannot just tell you, "Oh, when you run your clothes dryer, it uses this much." Right? It's with these incentives that currently exist for solar and batteries, which have come down so much in price. Batteries are still very expensive on the consumer level, but they've come down enormously. Solar has come down enormously.

Quinn:

With those, you can also look and see, of course what power is coming in, how much are pulling in, what's going to the batteries, what's going to the house. But like you said, on the nasty days, which California just went through and will continue to go through and more places will, you could potentially actually send energy back to the grid. And obviously that's been complicated in some states with net metering and things like that. But you could actually make some money from these things, but you've really got to have a pretty intelligent setup for this all to work for yourself and for the greater either your micro grid locally or larger ones. Does that feel relatively on base?

John Semmelhack:

Yeah, no, that's exactly right. So yeah, there are some emerging products that are available now in the smart electrical panel world that can, and under different scenarios, whether there's a grid outage, whether you just want to reduce your load so that you can maximize how much you're sending off to the grid, or if you have, in some places, solar net metering rules are starting to change or doesn't even exist in some places, and you want solar, but you don't get really paid for when you send solar out to the grid. So you want to maximize how much of your solar production you're using on site. So these, intelligent panel systems can in real time, start to turn on devices and match them up in real time with your solar production. So there's lots of cool options that are out there.

Quinn:

I know there's one out there called Splitz, pretty cool. There's also add-on devices to current boxes if you're not ready there. And again, there's going to be so many more of these products that are going to become cheaper and more commonplace, easier to install, more standardized. But also because it's really important that we always talk about mitigation, but also adaptation, which is, again, you can look at the west and all of their potential rolling blackout issues, but with storms or flooding or whatever, it may be. People have hooked up generators to their home panels forever, super loud, bunch of gas. They run, they break, service them, this and that. But they're hardwired in. So you say when it's hooked up, and again, John, please correct me. If I'm wrong, you say, my fridge and my AC and mom's CPAP machine. And that's what you've got?

John Semmelhack:

And that's all you can do. You can't change it.

Quinn:

You can't change it. You can't manage it. You can't see how much it's taking out of your generator, this or this. With the smart panel, with solar, with batteries, again, not cheap right now, there's these 30% rebates, but you can change those on the fly, which is pretty cool.

John Semmelhack:

Exactly. So through the apps, you can set up an off grid or grid outage scenario where if the grid goes down, the system automatically turns off all of the circuits, except for these four critical circuits that you've designated and switches over to the battery backup or solar plus the battery, depending on the time of day and how much sun there is. And then on the fly, as you like, you can start changing that around. You can say, "Okay, I have tons of solar available right now. I've got excess energy I'm producing. But the grid is still down, let's go cook our dinner. Let's go cook our meal. Let's heat some water. Let's cool down our space for a while." Especially while if the battery is already full of energy. Otherwise, you're just wasting that solar.

John Semmelhack:

And then once you're done with those tasks, you can turn those circuits off and just go back to your critical circuits that you want to keep power like your lights and your fridge and medical devices and stuff like that. And those can run off the battery overnight. With that, you manage that well, you can have some pretty reasonably good comfort and creature comforts and cooking all enabled for an extended period of time as long as you've got some sun to give you that solar energy. That's the critical part. Otherwise, then you're limited to just the battery, which if you manage it well, it can still get you through several days of minimal lighting and refrigeration and heat.

Quinn:

Sure. And I feel like I'm going to do an entire episode about emergency kits, which I've been very down the road on having lived in Los Angeles for the past 15 years. And now I'm back in hurricane territory. But this is an essential piece of your planning folks, especially as we go forward because these things are going to continue happening and they're going to become both less predictable, more frequent, more severe in a lot of places, wherever you may be. No one's going to avoid these things. We keep talking about batteries, but I do want to pivot slightly to what I said we wouldn't cover too much, which is arguably the easiest battery you can get, even though they're not easy to get right now is if you've got a pretty smart home, is the battery in your car. And a lot of these newer models and I expect it'll become standard going forward. Once they're plugged in, can send juice back into your house. And I know the Ford F150, that's one of the big selling points is they're like, "It can power your house for three days." It's crazy.

John Semmelhack:

Yeah. Not everyone agrees with me on this, but I'm very excited about the opportunities around vehicle to home and then possibly vehicle to grid in some cases where the energy is flowing into your home and then back out to the grid. But yeah, the Ford... Actually, Nissan LEAF has been compatible with vehicle to home and vehicle to grid forever. But in the US, we haven't had the charging appliances, the bidirectional-

Quinn:

Two-way?

John Semmelhack:

Uh-huh. Chargers available to actually do that except on a very special pilot basis. I think more and more so when we think about with vehicles, the energy stored in the battery packs when they're full is much, much, much larger than what you would get with a home battery from Tesla or one of the other battery makers, LG, Panasonic, and so on. Just taking, whether it's to benefit the grid and get paid, or whether you're in a grid outage situation taking 10 or 20, even 30% of that battery pack is no big deal in most cases to power your home and still leaves you with plenty of energy if you need to drive.

Quinn:

Again, when I think of, and you've got your Comfort Squad shirt on. Comfort is not just our day-to-day because as these things change, or as our world becomes more volatile in places and in very different places and in very different ways, that you've done the things you can do to make your own home, your community, your HOA, your apartment building, whatever it might be, your city more resilient. So that when these things happen, you are better prepared. And building this foundational layer, starting with your own home, not only is smart and can save you some money, but can make you more comfortable and just provide some peace of mind that we're lucky we're able to do these things.

Quinn:

And again, now you can do it. So I'm excited to move onto the kitchen, but I want to back up for people again, to help them understand some of the work we've talked about so far. Again, for the folks who qualify, you can get up to $1600 for insulation, air ceiling, ventilation. Up to $2,500 for upgrades to your electric wiring. And up to $4,000 for an upgrade to your electrical load service center, which you described as that whole brain operation.

Quinn:

So we're not just saying go do these things, but this specifically is why we're touring the house to understand where all these things apply.

John Semmelhack:

Yeah, exactly. I think the most important thing is to start developing a plan of action for your home so that you don't get caught in an emergency situation. That's really where all of these things start to fall down in terms of making these electrification replacements, especially if your furnace breaks in January, it's going to take a little extra time to switch to a heat pump if you have to bring in an electrician to do some additional wiring to get that heat pump installed. So if that means an extra week or two weeks, or if the electricians are all busy doing other work, that's a real problem when it's really cold out. And that's one of the reasons why so many furnaces get replaced with gas furnaces is because that's the easy, quick thing to do when it's an emergency or semi-emergency standpoint. So planning it out and doing that replacement when your equipment is getting towards the end of life, but maybe isn't quite there, that's the best time to do it. Unless you have lots of financial resources, then you should just go ahead and do it.

Quinn:

Right. So let's move-

John Semmelhack:

But for most people, for most homeowners, for the apartment building owners who are really looking at the monthly dollars and cents and are not interested and really replacing stuff early, it's going to be having a good plan and replacing things when they're close to their end of life.

Quinn:

Right. And for some people that could be today. For some people that could be once a lot of these rebates and tax incentives kick off. But again, there's just going to be more and more resources. Again, we'll put them all in there. But in the Northeast, look at what Bard and Block Power are doing in cities is really, really, really cool. So let's move into the kitchen. You step into the kitchen. What's the first thing you're looking at? Assume standardized, I've got all my stuff. Let's say I got everything in my kitchen 14 years ago. Go for it.

John Semmelhack:

Okay. So if it's standard stuff, then you have a gas range that has an electric oven probably. So a range is this all in one appliance or the oven and the cooktop or this single appliance that just slides in. If you're cooking with gas, then what we would be proposing is an electric range to replace it. Ideally an electric induction range. So that means it uses electric induction technology for the cooktop.

Quinn:

And again, I just want to emphasize to people, it's not very early with these things. It is early with these things. They've gotten a lot better. They're going to get better, more providers, cheaper, more reliable, but induction cooking is so cool.

John Semmelhack:

Related to heat pumps. We're trying to be that postcard from the future. So Europe is the postcard from the future, especially in terms of induction cooking, and Asia as well. Maybe the whole world. The US is just way, way behind. Induction's been around since the eighties.

Quinn:

Watch any episode of Great British Bake Off! They're in the tent. It's a hundred degrees, literally climate change in there. Watch an episode from 12 years ago and they're on induction cooktop-

John Semmelhack:

Cooking induction. That's right.

Quinn:

Baking, which by the way, you fuck it up by one degree, your cake's shot.

John Semmelhack:

That's why they use induction is because the temperature-

Quinn:

It's so exact.

John Semmelhack:

Can be so precise, and you can get things so low. So yeah, if you do really fine chocolate, sweets making things like that, an induction is the best for that. But yeah, I've had my induction cooktop since 2008 and we had limited options back then in the US. Now, all the big appliance makers have standalone cooktops. They have slide in ranges. They have drop in ranges, different sizes. They don't have everything for every application, but for most households, there's something that's going to be a drop in replacement for what you have now with the addition that you have to get the wiring to it.

Quinn:

Sure. And again, there's incentives for that. And for this one, again, those eligible, you could you get up to... And again, correct me if I'm wrong here, $840 off the cost of an electric or induction ranger cooktop, electric oven, or I think clothes dryer goes in there too, but we'll get back to that. Postcard from the future, it's all amazing. Let's take a moment because over the past year or so, some really awesome folks have done a lot of research into holy shit gas stoves are really not great for indoor air quality. Do you want to speak to that for a moment? I can get into it. It's up to you.

John Semmelhack:

Yeah. I can give you the basics.

Quinn:

Sure.

John Semmelhack:

So one of the interesting things is that your gas cooktop and your gas oven, if you have a gas oven, it's the only appliance in your house that isn't required by law to be vented to the outside, which is wild. Everything else has a flu that goes to a chimney and the combustion gas -

Quinn:

We just talked about my flu. I'm not allowed to close it.

John Semmelhack:

No, you're not allowed to close it. Your furnace has a flu. All those gases from the combustion process, they go to a flu and they go up through your roof, into the outside, same with your water heater, because it's not safe to breathe that stuff. They're all serious pollutants. Particulates, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, other nasty stuff.

Quinn:

But it's free game in your kitchen where five people are crowded around?

John Semmelhack:

In terms of indoor pollutant generation, cooking in the kitchen is the number one source of indoor generated pollutants. If you cook with gas, it's significantly worse than cooking with electric.

Quinn:

So just to interrupt real quick, because I was an asthma kid, I was very, very lucky and privileged. My parents had great health insurance. I had 20 ambulance rides, emergency rooms, bad news stuff. This is part of the reason why this pisses me off and how much we've identified, what the gas lobby, SoCal gas, some of these places have done to get in the way of electrification of the kitchen. From last year, just pulled it back up from, I have just a Billy Madison type anger list of stats that make me frustrated. But reading it a meta-analysis of 41 studies showed the children living in homes with gas stoves have a 42% increased risk of experiencing asthma symptoms and a 24% increased risk of ever being diagnosed with asthma by a doctor over their lifetime. It's not fun to not be able to breathe.

Quinn:

And again, I was very lucky to be able to be taken care of. I was on five different inhalers and pills and this and that. It's awful. So many low income kids, the black kids all over Los Angeles. This is the deal. And they're in apartments where they never could imagine replacing these because they're not in charge of them or they can't afford to change them. And SoCal Gas has, again, I will put it all over the show notes, everything they can to keep you from changing those things. So this one is actually besides induction. Super cool. And we can cook all this amazing chocolate. And I'm going to, if we're talking about comfort and health, this is the thing for me.

John Semmelhack:

Absolutely. Yeah. It's a potentially big health impact, especially if you have kids or older folks.

Quinn:

My mother-in-law's an asthmatic nightmare and she moved to a new house. I said, "I'm taking that stove out tomorrow."

John Semmelhack:

Yeah. Or if you're a regular middle-aged adult like us and you have any kind of breathing problem. It's not good for anybody, but it's much worse for certain folks.

Quinn:

Yeah. Also, we're in the middle of a cardio respiratory plague to be clear.

John Semmelhack:

Exactly. Yep. This is what I think is great is that for the vast majority of home cooks, cooking on an electric induction cooktop is better than gas. It's better. It's significantly better. It's safer. It's faster to heat things up, finer tune control. It's easier to clean. So whether you're the cook or whether you're the one doing dishes, it's better.

Quinn:

Yeah. If you have many small children like me, who constantly just want plain pasta, a pot of water will boil so fast, it's magic and it feels that way. And this is the way it should be. And again, everywhere else has been doing it forever, but it's the way forward. So you recommend, we replace this with whether your ranges 30 or 36, whatever. It might be more and more coming again. We'll put consumer reports, reviews out there for folks. Are you looking at anything else in the kitchen besides the oven and the stove top or the range?

John Semmelhack:

Yes. So for us, we would also be looking at the range hood exhaust if you have a range hood. So even with electric cooking, electric induction cooking and definitely with gas, it's still recommended to exhaust your pollutants that you're creating while you're cooking the big ones. Even if you're just cooking with electric, you still are generating some pretty heavy particulates that are not good to breathe. So if you can just suck them out right from the cooktop with a range hood, that's the best case. So if you have a range hood already in the house and you're planning on keeping it, that's something that we would test. We would actually turn it on, go out and measure the airflow. Make sure it was doing a good job. If you don't have one, then we would start to think about, okay, how can we retrofit a range hood into a home? That's something that we did recently for a client here in Charlottesville.

Quinn:

Okay. Awesome. That's great. My kitchen's upgraded. I've got some incentives that if I qualify, it's healthier, it's better cooking. Everybody wins. Should we take a walk to my washer dryer? Or where would you like to go next?

John Semmelhack:

Let's go to your water heater next. From an energy impact and a climate impact. That's a big one.

Quinn:

So I want to talk about, sort of my little journey, which I explained to you and how at the time I did what I did, but now it's time to change again. So I had old school water heater, it was great, living in California. My mom is there. I mean, those things are massive. It explodes. Whole basement's trash, because it's an enormous amount of water. And I said, "You know what? I'm not having water in my basement anymore. I'm done." So I put a tankless one outside. It is such a huge pain in the ass. Also, it's gas. So tell me about the future. What are you looking at?

John Semmelhack:

So the future's electric, of course. We're trying to get everything to run on clean energy and with our current technology, that means we're running on electricity. So it's electric. It is most likely has some kind of storage tank for hot water because what that means is you can heat things up in batches. You don't need a giant blast of electricity to heat things up instantly. That's a real problem for your electrical panel in terms of your wire sizing. That can also be a problem for your neighborhood grid, not even and on the bigger grid.

Quinn:

And just to help people picture it. And again, as we're talking about, like for these things, like we said, replacing induction will look different. It's just a blank thing, but it fits in your current space, water heater. These are big things. From what I can tell and I don't have one yet, it seems to fit into the same space. I just think how people they've always got a little closet or it's in the garage or something like that.

John Semmelhack:

I think most households have a tank style, water heater already, yeah.

Quinn:

But the new electric one would fit into the same area?

John Semmelhack:

Yes. Okay. Most of the time. Now, so there's standard electric ones that are less efficient and a little bit lower cost. And then they're also heat pump water heaters, which are usually a little bit taller if it's a packaged heat pump, water heater. Those are much more energy efficient. From a kind of energy cost and return on investment standpoint, it depends on where you are, but where we are in central Virginia, the math is kind of, if you're a three person household and higher than you're probably better off with the heat pump water heater because you'll get that savings over just a few years. You're a two person householder or smaller, then a standard electric water heater might be better. Now of course, that math changes a little bit with the rebate money.

Quinn:

And I don't actually have that one in my notes. What is the rebate for this if you qualify?

John Semmelhack:

$1750 is the maximum rebate. So if you're at that 80% AMI threshold, it's $1750. And it's half of that if you're over the threshold.

Quinn:

And I don't really have a reference point because I haven't... Besides when I very quickly just ordered the tankless- $1750, what is a typical total cost? Let's say we're getting the more efficient one?

John Semmelhack:

So yeah, heat pump water heater, that varies depending on where you are in the country and what your local labor market and so on. Installed cost is going to probably be $3,500 up to $10,000.

Quinn:

Oh Jesus.

John Semmelhack:

Depending on where you are. And it also depends on what size tank you're getting. So the 50 gallon models are the most popular by far and are the lowest cost from the wholesale shop or from the big box hardware store or the retailer. And then there's usually a 65 gallon model and then an 80 gallon model. And those are significantly more because of the bigger tank. And they just don't produce as many of them.

Quinn:

And the wiring to get that baby hooked up, that's going to be included with the previous rebates talked about? Or has that come off of this specific one?

John Semmelhack:

That can be rolled into your electrical upgrades rebate package. So yeah, to the extent that you can plan all of these electrical upgrades all at once and do that electrical work all at once and really max out the rebate. And then also the electrician's going to give you a better price for doing five things all at once, rather than just doing one thing five different times over the next 10 years.

Quinn:

And now talk to me about comfort. Why is this heat pump water heater better?

John Semmelhack:

The heat pump water heater is better, if you already have a tank and you're putting in a heat pump, water heater, that's a tank, it's going to be a similar experience as long as it's sized properly. So you just have a tank of standing water and you just draw from that as needed. And then as the tank temperature drops, then the heat pump will come on and replenish the heat in the tank. So it's mostly about energy savings and the ability to shift when that energy is used to different times of the day.

Quinn:

Now, how new is that category? Is that something else heat pump water heaters that the rest of the world has been doing as well? How far about behind are these new innovations?

John Semmelhack:

Yeah, we have a slide that my colleague, Ben, put together. I think the earliest US heat pump water heaters from 1976. So they've come and gone a couple of times. So we built our house in 2008 and then installed the first of the new generations of heat pump water heaters in 2010.

Quinn:

Wow.

John Semmelhack:

So they've been out on the market for a dozen years in the newer generations. Now most of the manufacturers from that 2010 time period, they're on their fourth or fifth complete revision of the model. So they've improved quite a bit for the most part. They do have a compressor and a fan. So there is more noise than a standard electric water heater. They're slower to recover. So it's important to get the tank size right. Although, most of them do have a standard electric boost. So if the tank temperature drops too much, it'll kick in that boost. The boost is less efficient. So it's a bit of a trade off between speed of recovery and MG use.

Quinn:

Sure. Right. Got a bunch of house guests. Noted. So I want to pause for a second because I imagine at some point, folks are going, "Great. My electrical bill's going to go up a lot unless I'm really relying on solar and batteries." Almost exclusively, if not exclusively for the people who can cover their roof or pay for that whole thing, whatever it might be, where are the trade offs on that front by cutting down on gas?

John Semmelhack:

That difference is going to vary a lot depending on where you are in the country. So yes, as we switch, as we electrify everything, add these electrical appliances to homes, replace the gas or the propane or the heating oil, the electrical energy use and the energy costs are going to go up. And the fossil energy use and energy costs are going to go down. Where we are in central Virginia, our clients are generally coming out ahead even before talking about solar.

Quinn:

Really?

John Semmelhack:

And before we're talking about EVs.

Quinn:

Wow.

John Semmelhack:

So just from heat pumps, heat pump water heaters, and induction cooking coming out typically for a family of four, family of five, you're $300, $400 ahead based on our local electricity costs and local year fossil gas costs per year.

Quinn:

That's amazing.

John Semmelhack:

Yeah. So it's not an enormous windfall.

Quinn:

Hey man, there's a recession out the window.

John Semmelhack:

That's going to vary, again, depending on where you are. There's some parts of the country where electricity prices are much more expensive and gas prices haven't gone up nearly as much. So you have to. This is what we do for clients day to day is do that analysis to find... You need to find somebody who's like us, unless you're the number crunching geek and want to do that math yourself.

Quinn:

Sure. All kinds of calculators and nerds out there. That can help you too, folks. The other thing again, to take a step back into the more macro situation of step down from climate change to how are we going to power the US more robustly in a more resilient way, in a more reliable way with solar and the sun's not out all the time. Wind doesn't blow all the time. And batteries and this or this, or the people who there's a huge host of different surveys and research about, okay, if we're going to do the whole country in solar, how much land space would it take up? And some people are like, "Well, it's Kentucky and Tennessee and this." Right? And you're like, "In some ways, others." But it's also important to look at, and this is a huge part of dealing with the climate crisis and food and water, all the things we cover here is land use, which is in many cities, there are eight parking spots for every one person.

Quinn:

And we have so many commercial rooftops from big box stores, but we also have your rooftop. And I'm not going to sneeze at how expensive some of these solar installations are. It's come down quite a lot. And I remember quoting it out in Los Angeles for my relatively small home that I was lucky to have and all that, but this was 10 years ago. And it was not cheap, but I was like, "Ah, I should probably do the right thing. And wouldn't this be fun?".It's so much cheaper now, still expensive, but you've got this 30% rebate already plus batteries. And I think now going forward, it's also for batteries alone. You don't have to get them together, perhaps.

John Semmelhack:

That's correct. And there's more and more financing options as well.

Quinn:

But also, this is going to save you often money along the line. So we're talking about how expensive electricity is in different parts of the country. If you can find a way to afford to install your own, you're less... And this is, again, something we talk about all the time here is externalities and what you're exposed to. You're less exposed to that. You're going to be less exposed to a gas line braking somewhere in your neighborhood or on your street or whatever it might be.

John Semmelhack:

Sure. You're going to be less exposed to foreign wars that are driving up gas prices.

Quinn:

A hundred percent, what an asshole. There's just more ways to build a primary layer of resiliency and comfort and reliability, but also redundancies should anything happen, because shit clearly happens. So there's going to be upfront costs. What IRA is trying to do is really chip away at that for a lot of the folks who really need it more than anything. And again, like you were saying, the 27 billion to the Green Bank is going to honestly fund projects that we couldn't even imagine and the build up and momentum behind those. But the goal with all of this is to really help you build a home and a neighborhood, an apartment in a city that is more resilient and robust and ready to on the day-to-day, make you more comfortable, save you money, but also be more resilient for what's coming. And again, just put out less shit into the air, less emissions, less mess, less carbon dioxide.

John Semmelhack:

Or the homes or buildings that either you don't have the financing to be able to put solar on your rooftop or you don't own your own rooftop or it's just terrible site in terms of getting sun to hit the rooftop, there are more and more and more community solar options where you can still buy into a somewhat local, sometimes very local, community solar project, where you own essentially a share or you buy a portion of the power that's produced. And you come out ahead on your electricity bill compared to business as usual, we have some great new programs just coming online here in Virginia, in partnership with some affordable housing providers.

Quinn:

I love it. What else do we have to cover in the house? What else am I missing?

John Semmelhack:

Probably the closed dryer, especially if you're in California. There's so many gas clothes dryers in California. They're pretty rare here in Virginia. But in some parts of the country, gas clothes dryers are really commonplace. That would be a big one. So switching over to an electric clothes dryer, there's standard electric's exhaust closed dryers. Or if you want to go with the more energy efficient upgrade, then you would look at a heat pump clothes dryer, which uses a heat pump circuit to warm the air up inside the drum and then cool it down and condense the water vapor into liquid water. So it's sucking out the moisture that way. So it's evaporating it into the air and then condensing it out instead of just exhausting all of the air to the outside. So it's ductless. You don't need a duct to hook up to. If you have a duct already to the outside, that can be sealed up.

Quinn:

Literally that contractor that day was punching a new duct in my wall and now I'm like, "Son of a bitch. You just got it."

John Semmelhack:

So the heat pump clothes dryers are quite energy efficient compared to standard gas and standard electric.

Quinn:

And do they do as good of a job?

John Semmelhack:

They do take longer. So it's a little bit longer cycle. There's no thermodynamic free lunch, as some of my mentors like to say.

Quinn:

If we just found the headline for the episode.

John Semmelhack:

Right.

Quinn:

Awesome.

John Semmelhack:

So my clothes dryer, for instance, might run an hour 30 or an hour 40 for typical cycle instead of 60 minutes.

Quinn:

Okay. I'm going to forget it's in there regardless and find it a day later. So it doesn't actually really matter in my end. It's me going just like, "Where are my socks?"

John Semmelhack:

Some households really do have a laundry day and they've got seven people and one laundry day and they have to do 10 loads on that single day and a heat pump dryer is not -

Quinn:

It doesn't stop my children. It's just the fact of, "I need my socks." Are there any other test-

John Semmelhack:

EV chargers, we can maybe just touch on, especially when you're thinking about the other electrical upgrades. Making sure you're planning for that EV charging upgrade. Some houses that have older wiring, older electrical panels might have a 100 amp service or maybe even smaller service, maybe even only a 60 amp service or something like that, especially if it's a small home. So once you start adding all of these new electrical devices, there are calculations that you have to do to make sure that you're not overloading your existing service. And there's different ways to do the calculations that are approved by the building codes, but it's important to do them accurately instead of just throwing a dart at a dart board and getting a random number. Electricians will tend to be like the HVAC salesperson with the furnaces. They're going to tend to oversize everything so that it's easier for them in terms of just making that sale and not having to worry, like just having a huge service size where there's absolutely positively 300% extra safety factor, no worry about fire. And you just don't need that kind of safety factor.

Quinn:

Plan for the EV, but we don't need to be planned to charge a garbage truck here.

John Semmelhack:

Exactly. Right. So there's calculations that you can do. Energy monitoring is also your friend. There are ways that you can use energy monitoring from your historical usage to justify keeping your existing service or, say, limiting your upgrade to 200 amps rather than going all the way to 400 amps. And that can be a big deal. And this is also where some of the smart electrical panels can really help where I think in the future right now, you can already do this with EV chargers, but you can say, "Okay, I'm going to add an EV charger. But when I do the calculation, the calculation says, I should go up to 200 amp service." But if you have a smart electrical panel that can limit your usage to no more than that hundred amps, then you're allowed to add that EV charger without upgrading the overall service.

Quinn:

Oh, interesting.

John Semmelhack:

You would upgrade to that smart panel instead. So it's kind of a way, and I don't know if it's a one to one trade off in terms of cost, but it's a way to take some of the cost, take it away from an unnecessary wiring and panel upgrade and putting into something that's going to be more useful and practical down the road.

Quinn:

Sure. And again, it's understandable from the past couple years if you thought, "Well, I'm never going to get a Tesla." Look, California has said, "This is what we're doing. And there's a whole bunch of states that we're already legally obligated to follow in their footsteps."

John Semmelhack:

Including us here in Virginia.

Quinn:

Yeah, including Virginia. Boy, the governor's not happy about that. It brings me so much joy. This is the way this is going, fewer cars overall, please better. If you can walk, more people are working from home, this and that, but cars are always going to be large parts of this country. So plan to accommodate the EV in some way. And again, look at those benefits of you're putting fewer emissions into the air. It's a cleaner car for your family. You don't have to go to gas station. You can charge at home. It's amazing.

Quinn:

Also, again, in times of emergency, if we build this house correctly, like $60 million man, whatever it was, you can take the energy from your car in emergency and put it into your wifi and your fridge and any medical devices you might need. Whatever it might be. The whole point is it's an ecosystem that relies and depends and supports each other. So I don't want to keep you forever here, but I feel like we've touched a lot of things. Any other tests you're going to run besides appliances? I know you went under the house, you thought about stuff like that. Window leakage, anything like that, what else have I missed that people would experience when they ask for this thing?

John Semmelhack:

Duct work is a big one. A lot of homes are going to have duct work.

Quinn:

I think mine's a nightmare. I think that's what you wrote in the report, right? A nightmare?

John Semmelhack:

Yeah. It's pretty close to nightmare. Anyway, that's not the worst I've seen. Yeah. Our recommendation, and for you is to replace that duct work at some point down the road. It doesn't have to be immediately. I think we can do a heat pump replacement now and then think strategically in the future about when to replace the duct work.

Quinn:

But in general, maybe don't strap your ducts to the top of an uninsulated ceiling that's facing the sky with full sun coverage is what you're saying.

John Semmelhack:

Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Good talk. Attach your duct work to 140 degree roof.

Quinn:

If it's a room you wouldn't go in during the summer, I don't think your ducts are going to want to be there either.

John Semmelhack:

Duct work belongs in bases that you would want to be in. That's where duct work belongs.

Quinn:

Great, Good talk.

John Semmelhack:

Because then you don't have to worry as much about leakage in the duct work and you don't have to worry as much about heat losses and heat gains during the extremes.

Quinn:

And to be fair to most, folks, everyone's got duct work in a bunch of different places and again, in apartments and condos and things like that, it's obviously more complicated. Mine are, the bulk of mine for this, what we're saying are actually completely exposed. They're in an unfinished attic for a lot of folks, they might not be able to affect their duct work because it's actually in condition and it's built into walls or ceilings or whatever it might be.

John Semmelhack:

Right. Yeah.

Quinn:

But it also means it might just be in better condition. I know I had other issues too, but that seems to be my primary one.

John Semmelhack:

Yeah, that's true. So for folks who have forest air heating or forest air heating and cooling who are in colder places, they're much more likely to have duct work that is already in condition space. So it's in between their floors or it's in their walls, it's in their basement. And so there's less heat loss and heat gain. As you move to warmer places with newer construction, you see a lot more duct work that's installed in unconditioned crawl spaces in unconditioned attics. So yeah, so that's most of the newer housing we've built over the last 30 years is in those parts of the country, unfortunately in the west, in the Southwest and Southeast. And so we have lots and lots and lots of duct work and places. Bad duct work and bad places. So again, lots of opportunities though.

Quinn:

There it is. That's the spirit. I need you just on my ear in the morning going, "It's not all bad." So I don't want to keep you too long. I have a few other last questions and anything else you want to cover, but I wonder about two particular questions I have for you. One is much broader than the other, but another one is Virginia specific. And I've mentioned this before and I think there's probably a number of people with this issue. Certainly not a lot, but I know the Northeast has it as well, which is, buddy of mine. Southwest Virginia sent this to me and I was immediately like, "Clearly you're not paying attention. This is not my job, but I can point you to the right place." I would love to hear your thoughts on an environmentally sound and economically viable approach to replacing heating oil boiler.

John Semmelhack:

Oh sure.

Quinn:

Is that as straightforward as it seems with the heat pump, how does that process work in our new age going forward here?

John Semmelhack:

So in the US, it's challenging still and it's challenging for a few different reasons. One is that air to water heat pumps, which is what you would need for an existing home with a boiler and radiators or in the rare case, maybe a boiler in floor heat. You need an air to water heat pump. So something that takes heat from the outside air and puts it into water inside your house. And that circulates that warmer, hot water to the radiators to make heat just like your boiler does. Your boiler makes hot water and then circulates it to the radiators. So there's a limited number of manufacturers and products available in the US right now for air to water heat pumps. In Europe where radiator heating is commonplace, lots of air to water heat pump choices, and more and more and more coming online. So we have limited products that are available.

John Semmelhack:

Secondly, in the US, most of our radiators are too small and essentially they require really hot water because the radiators are so small, to get them enough heat out of that radiator into the room. And there are even fewer heat pumps that can hit those really hot water temperatures. So for a lot of homes, if you want to keep hot water, radiator heat, you might have to do a radiator replacement or some for all of the rooms in order to switch to an air to water heat pump. So it's all of this is possible with current technology. The radiator technology is no big deal. There's European radiator companies that have these larger heat exchange areas. So they have rows of fins instead of just one row of fins, they'll have two rows or even three rows. So you just get a lot more heat transfer and you're able to use lower water temperatures, which makes for a much more efficient heat pump system.

Quinn:

And is there any sort of rebates for any of these things or are these not covered?

John Semmelhack:

Depending on how the state set up their programs, I don't see any reason why air to water heat pumps would be excluded.

Quinn:

Less to pick from.

John Semmelhack:

Fewer contractors. There's very few who have actually done that work before and fewer who are willing to kind of go and do it on their first time. So we've quoted, we've looked at it for several clients and here in Virginia. For the most part, when we look at that option... And most of these houses in Virginia, for instance, most of these houses still need a cooling system. So you would need a separate system for cooling and dehumidification, which usually means some kind of forced air system as well. So you have these redundant distribution systems that both cost money, and you need to wind up installing both of those. Or you can just do it all with a single ducted air to air heat pump system. For some of the older houses that have radiators, we've actually gone in, just taken out the boiler, take out any of the radiators that the client wants to remove just from an aesthetic standpoint and put in a whole new duct system with a heat pump. So everything is air based.

Quinn:

Is there any argument and please by all means, just shoot this down left and right. We're watching Top Gun here. But is there any argument for just saying, "We're not doing that anymore. You're just going to put a mini duct in the rooms you want to have climate control in?" Is that less work, more work? Does it make no sense at all?

John Semmelhack:

It's probably less work. From a comfort standpoint, the radiant heating, when done well with a low temperature heat pump system, the comfort can be amazing in the heating season, of course because you're not going to get much cooling out of it, and certainly you won't get any dehumidification out of it unless you want really wet floors.

Quinn:

Right. So fun water. It's so great.

John Semmelhack:

It'll be interesting to see kind of what the typical solutions are in different places. There's tons of multifamily buildings in Philadelphia, New York City, throughout the Northeast that are boilers and radiators and window air conditioners. That's super, super common. And the common retrofit is ductless heat pumps, wall mount, or other similar kinds of heat pumps. Now there's additional products coming on the market where there's packaged through wall ductless heat pumps, there's heat pump window units now that are available.

Quinn:

Gradient. I'm on the list.

John Semmelhack:

So there's definitely other options. And I think trying to keep the hot water heat is in a lot of cases, the more expensive option, if you also still have to deal with cooling. And there's no doubt that we still have to deal with cooling the cooler comfort, the dehumidification, and more and more locations in North America who could get by without cooling and dehumidification are going to need it either at least the cooling or they're going to need dehumidification as well.

Quinn:

Yeah. And that was my broader question, which is the outcome is the same. The inputs are two different ones, which is in the Northeast. And for a lot of the west, these folks have never had air conditioning. Look at the Pacific Northwest, especially what's happening now. And again, Northeast, there's quite a bit of oil still there. But in the west there's a lot of these places have nothing. They've got fans. Let's say we just covered oil and such. But let's talk about in the west. If you've got nothing. Let's say you own your home. You own your duplex, whatever it might be, obviously this varies enormously. But where would you start with these things?

John Semmelhack:

Yeah, it really depends on what you're starting with. If you're starting with a boiler and radiators or whether you're starting with a ducted gas furnace, or a lot of houses in Washington state, for instance, just have electric resistance, baseboard heat, because that was really encouraged to soak up a bunch of the excess nuclear that was built in the seventies and eighties.

Quinn:

Sure. Everything's fine. Yeah.

John Semmelhack:

Especially depends on, do you have duct work already and okay. Is that duct work in a good spot and in good shape? So, if you have duct work, it's in a good location and it's in good shape to be reused, then a ducted heat pump is probably going to be the best strategy because then you can get comfort delivered to all the different rooms. If you don't have that-

Quinn:

If you don't have any duct work?

John Semmelhack:

If you don't have any duct work, then how hard is it to retrofit duct work into a good spot, and then comparing that to going with the ductless heat pumps, the various options that are available in the ductless heat pumps.

Quinn:

I think specifically about some of these places that are incredibly unaffordable out west, like Los Angeles. I mean, it's nearly impossible to buy a home. So let's imagine you're a renter and you don't affect the duct work, whether you've got it or not, and you've got an apartment or whatever it is. Do you go in window units? And is there any sort of rebate for that? What are these people looking at? Does it come down to the landlord? What are the options?

John Semmelhack:

From a starting point, if you're a renter, I think the first question is who's paying the energy bills? If you're paying for your heat, or if you're paying for your cooling, then maybe there's an incentive to do one of these window unit heat pumps. And that's something that is portable. You can install. It's easy to install. Install is similarly to a window unit air conditioner. And then you can get that benefit of the lower energy bills and the variable speeds, heating, cooling output for better comfort. And then when you move to a new apartment, you can take it with you.

John Semmelhack:

And maybe at the same time, you can also have this conversation with the property owner and start to hopefully push them in the right direction. Let them know, "Hey, there's these rebates. You've got 20 year old equipment across the board. You're going to have to replace it."

John Semmelhack:

Maybe make some improvements that are going to get you better occupancy. In some places, unfortunately there's so much demand for housing right now that the landlords are sitting pretty. As far as this stuff goes, they don't have a big incentive, didn't make big improvements. But hopefully that'll change down the road and we'll see property owners being a little bit progressive taking advantage of some of these rebate programs or maybe the green bank financing to make these changes. And of course there's lots of states and localities that have additional incentives. So they have additional grants or rebates that you can layer on to these new federal rebates and tax credits that are available through the IRA.

Quinn:

Awesome. I think that's enough, unless you're just like, you've totally forgot this part of your house. It seems like we've covered most things. Usually, we finish with action steps people can take. That was the whole show.

John Semmelhack:

That was the whole show.

Quinn:

That's the whole thing.

John Semmelhack:

A lot of people don't realize it is that they are surrounded by heat pumps already. Even if you don't have a heat pump for heating and cooling. Heat pumps are everywhere. They're just called different things. Your refrigerators is a heat pump. If you have a window air conditioner, that's a heat pump. Heat pumps just move heat from one place to another. And they push heat or they pump heat against its natural gradient. So just like water wants to flow downhill and you can use a pump to pump water uphill. You can use a heat pump to pump heat uphill, to pump it from cold to hot. And that's all your air conditioner does, it pumps heat from inside your house and it sends it outside where it's already hot.

Quinn:

Should we have renamed heat pumps before we passed IRA? Did we blow it?

John Semmelhack:

I'm against the heat pump renaming. I'm on record several times.

Quinn:

You're team heat pump. Okay, got it. Got it. I'm just thinking of the people who are going to be like, "I need air conditioning too." I'm like, "No, I know, but please listen to the whole thing."

John Semmelhack:

Yep. Yep.

Quinn:

Gotcha. Yeah.

John Semmelhack:

Your refrigerator, your freezer's a heat pump. Your car has a heat pump. Lots of different things, all heat pumps. Some of them. So in the US or in North America, a heat pump, most commonly refers to something that can do heating and cooling at the same time. In other countries it's a little bit different.

Quinn:

Sure.

John Semmelhack:

Heat pumps are already ubiquitous. There's nothing new about them. There were something like 600 million compressors used for heat pump refrigeration systems of one kind or another in the world last year. 600 million.

Quinn:

That's incredible.

John Semmelhack:

It's totally normal. Yeah.

Quinn:

Well, hopefully we're shipping more to Europe here. This has been incredible. I have the last couple questions. I'm going to get you out of here. This has been like the whole day. I imagine you're going to take a very long nap after this. I really appreciate. I think this is going to be so helpful to people going like, "Oh shit, that I had no idea."

John Semmelhack:

Thank you. Thank you.

Quinn:

John, first time in your life when you realized you had the power of change or the power to do something meaningful, however you define that when you were a kid with your team with whatever it might be family alone, when were you like, "Oh shit, I can move the needle on something.

John Semmelhack:

Definitely when I started my consulting business back in 2008, we saw right away that we could make some pretty big improvements in people's lives that were revolutionary for them creating a comfort health, energy experiences as that, most people just didn't really realize were possible. And we are part of helping to make that possible.

Quinn:

Thank you for sharing that. But I guess on that note, the one question I didn't ask that's unique here and I think is actually important for the legacy installers out there. Obviously they need to start transitioning to handling this line of business and encouraging it more. What would you say to folks who sort still have pushback about this? Who have decades and decades of contracts with air conditioning compressors and furnaces and things like that? And they've got the sheet they give you when you need to replace it because in an emergency and it's 95 degrees and they go, "You want this one or the more efficient?" The most efficient. We'll be here Wednesday.

John Semmelhack:

Yep. Hey, I get the business model around emergency replacements. It's challenging to do an electrification on an emergency basis. That's something as a company we rarely do because it's challenging. Almost all of our stuff is planned out. So I think to the extent that contractors are able to get into the business of helping their clients think more thoughtfully and holistically about their homes, about their indoor health, about their comfort and about energy. And think about that stuff up front.

John Semmelhack:

They're more likely to gain a client for the long haul than just doing emergency replacements. And that's a big opportunity to do the heat pump swap out. But a lot of these contractors also do plumbing. They also do electrical. A lot of them, especially the bigger ones, they're combo contractors. So that's an opportunity to not just be in there one time for the heat pump, but to do a whole big package all at once and utilize multiple divisions from your company to do some big projects. And so I think that's a good selling point as well. So that's the carrot. The stick is that if they don't, there's going to be more and more folks like us who are getting out ahead and eliminating the emergency replacements and switching people over to heat pumps. And then once they're switched over and they're happy, they're not going to go back to the other contractors.

John Semmelhack:

So that's the stick is kind of, get in the game because the game is changing.

Quinn:

Sure. Sure. I might have to ask you at some point to send me, I feel like that's one place maybe I'm lacking as some informational resources for installers to sort of... What is the good word to help them most robustly sell them on starting to turn over their business towards this as opposed to we've told all the consumers, "Hey, here's your calculator. Here's where to go. Here's where to find out your rebates." If you've got like, "Hey, this is the place to find out the real gospel."

John Semmelhack:

Yeah. There's good resources. And in California, to get people started, Nate Adams with HVC2.0 is trying to build a nationwide network of folks trying to revamp how HVC is done, electrification becomes a natural outcome. So it's not a selling point, but it becomes just something that's done naturally because it results in well, better results, better comfort, better health, lower energy bills for a lot of people. Yeah. I'll send you if you want these too.

Quinn:

Yeah, that would be great. I 100 watch those YouTube videos by the way. It's delight. John, who is someone in your life that has positively impacted your work in the past six months?

John Semmelhack:

I'm on Twitter a good bit following a lot of energy and climate Twitter folks. So I think definitely Dr. Leah Stokes is a big one. And another one who on Twitter is just now starting to post more because she was, I think, doing some government work for a while, but Dr. Emily Grubert, who's now at Notre-Dame, she's always posting great stuff. Or not always, but when she does, great stuff.

Quinn:

Awesome, awesome. We will put them in the show notes. And lastly, because you have so much time in your hands, a book you've read this year recently that's opened your mind to a topic you hadn't considered before or has changed your thinking in some way. We've got a whole list that we share with folks.

John Semmelhack:

Definitely, the All We Can Save book is fantastic. There's just so many different perspectives. That's something that I try to do in who I follow on Twitter, my curated Twitter experiences. Follow folks who are outside my regular realm and All We Can Save book has definitely helped get those different perspectives on global warming, on climate change, on equity and justice.

Quinn:

Yeah. They did a tremendous job with that book. It's pretty beautiful. That's it. You've been here all day. Congratulations. And thank you. You survived.

John Semmelhack:

Thank you. It's been great.

Quinn:

You're a hero. I think this is really going to help people go like, "Oh." And then they're going to walk into their laundry room and their kitchen and go, "That thing's not great." And they'll understand it a little better. Again, folks, we're going to give you all the tools that we've got and of course we'll update those as they go along. Yeah. John, where can our listeners follow you online? Find your crew.

John Semmelhack:

Sure. Yeah. So they can find our business at www.comfortsquad.us. And they can find me on Twitter at @JohnSemmelhack, and at @ComfortsquadVA.

Quinn:

Awesome. Well, I'm so thankful for you, spending the time doing this and taking my house of hard soup to nuts. It's overdue. But I'm giddy with excitement to take it on a nerd out on it all. So I promise fewer questions as we continue.

John Semmelhack:

Oh, keep them coming, Quinn.

Quinn:

Careful what you ask for. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Quinn:

Thanks for listening to the show. A reminder, you can send feedback or questions about this episode or some guest recommendations to me at questions@importantnotimportant.com. Links to anything we talked about today are in your show notes in your podcast player. If you want to rep any or your shit giver status, you can find sustainable T-shirts hoodies and a variety of coffee delivery vessels in our store at importantnotimportant.com/store.

Quinn:

You can subscribe to our critically acclaimed weekly newsletter for free at newsletter.importantnotimportant.com. Our theme music was composed by Tim Blaine. The show was edited by Anthony Luciani. And the whole episode was produced by Willow Beck. We'll see you next time.

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