According to the US Department of Energy, about 45% of the residential energy dollar goes for space heating. Where I live in Southeast Pennsylvania, most homes are heated by gas; specifically fracked gas.
This is gas extracted by drilling horizontally. The method is called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, using proprietary chemicals and pressurized water, leaving many Pennsylvanians with tap water that is undrinkable.
Many in Southeast PA want to transition away from fracked gas. This is a story of a small household that reduced their gas usage in a 2400 square foot twin house by 59% over 10 years.
The house was purchased in March 2005. A year later, their gas bill showed that they had used 888 ccf over the past 12 months. This was their baseline.
They installed a programmable thermostat set to drop the temperature several times in a day, only bringing it up to their preferred setting around 6 in the morning, so they would want to get out of bed on a chilly morning! The logic being that if anyone was home and feeling cold, they would turn up the heat. Another year later, in March 2007, their gas bill showed that they had used 658 ccf over the past 12 months; a 26% reduction.
Next, they replaced the gas water heater with an electric water heater. At some point, when they installed a clothesline in the back yard, they stopped using the gas dryer, eventually giving it away to a friend. When they noticed a draft, they sealed spaces in the basement. When they noticed themselves in primarily one room, the family started using an electric space heater in that one room instead of turning up the thermostat and heating the whole house. A few years went by; the gas usage had been whittled down to morning heat and cooking. When they checked in February 2015, the annual usage was 512 ccf; and in October 2016, they reached their lowest point — 362 ccf annually, a 59% reduction.
The longer term plan was to wait for the gas boiler to fail, and then replace it with ductless mini splits. These are also known as air source heat pumps, which would allow for zoned heating as well as cooling and are powered by electricity. Eventually, however, that house was rented and then sold. When tenants lived here, the annual usage was 596 ccf; still a 32% reduction from the baseline.
This household has downsized to a smaller, more compact house — a 1300 square foot row home with neighbors on both sides. Knowing they didn’t want fracked gas entering their home, the renovations ensured them a draft free space, and an all electric house topped with solar panels.
Discovering that the ductless mini split systems offer cooling as well as heating, others have decided to skip waiting for the gas boilers to fail and invested in the mini splits. The gas boilers remain in service, and get used less and less, eventually never. Much like fireplaces in the past.
This is an example of conservation and electrification, what our Ready for 100 teams in Southeast PA call Reduce and Electrify. You can learn more at https://wcacog.org/reduce.
What’s your exit strategy to get off gas?
This was originally written here.