Many CleanTechninca readers tell us they would like to decarbonize their lives but don’t know where to start. The best starting point for any journey is to establish a goal, then make a plan to reach your goal. After that:
- Put your plan into action
- Notice if it is working
- If necessary, adjust the plan
- Put the modified plan into action
- Work the modified plan
- Notice if it is working
- Lather, rinse, repeat, ad infinitum
Some people say making a plan is stupid and a waste of time because what if you change your mind and want to do something else? That’s easy. Nothing says because you have a goal you can’t decide to go in a different direction. Some people go to college planning to be a doctor but become a blogger instead. That’s cool. If you set a new goal, simply make a new plan and then follow it. Nothing says if you want to be a ballerina at one stage of your life you can’t strive to become a rocket scientist at another. What we are saying is, if you fail to make a plan, the odds of you achieving any of your dreams are not in your favor.
Why Do You Want To Decarbonize Your Life?
Canary Media has considered the question of how to decarbonize your life and come up with specific suggestions. It points out that some of the things you will want to do may cost money, but can pay dividends later. Decarbonizing can cost as little as buying a pack of LED light bulbs or as much as purchasing a new electric car. Rooftop solar systems with battery backup cost money but save on utility bills for decades.
First, clarify why you want to decarbonize. This is called goal setting and it’s always the first step in any planning process. Put your reasons why you want to decarbonize down on paper. If they are not, they are just wishes, which is not the same thing at all.
Next, visualize your life in your electrified home. Would you enjoy the gentle, consistent and clean warmth of a heat pump instead of the inefficient blast of a fossil-fueled furnace or boiler? Would you miss putting gas in your car if you drive an electric car or e-bike instead? Would you be more comfortable and enjoy lower energy bills if your home has more insulation and has all its cracks sealed with caulk? If you rent, do you cook on a sleek induction hot plate until you can convince your landlord to ditch the gas range? You might even subscribe to a shared community solar program, an option available to renters and homeowners alike.
Incentives To Decarbonize
There’s money available for electrification whether you’re a homeowner or a renter, but it may take some effort to access it. At the federal level, the Inflation Reduction Act made a number of tax credits available for upgrades, including electric heat pumps for space heating and cooling, heat pump water heaters, electric vehicles (here’s the list of cars that qualify), and much more. Forthcoming electrification and efficiency rebates will also help lower income families switch from gas appliances to electric ones.
Taking advantage of these IRA incentives could be well worth the effort. Rewiring America says they can add up to as much as $10,600 per household. Check out its interactive calculator for an estimate of incentives available. When it comes to local incentives, search the Energy Star rebate finder with your ZIP code and check with your utility, state energy office and city government for programs that help residents electrify.
Schedule A Home Energy Audit
A home energy audit is like a checkup for your home. After an inspection and some diagnostic tests, an energy auditor will give you a prescription for how to make your home a more efficient, comfortable and healthy living space. You don’t have to rush into all the updates, but getting an audit will help you discover where your home stands. (If you rent, ask your landlord to do this.)
To find a certified home energy auditor, you can find one near you through the DOE Home Energy Score program or the Building Performance Institute. Both are excellent resources for learning about ways to decarbonize your home. You can also check with your state energy or weatherization office or your local utility company. Be sure to ask whether any local subsidies for home energy audits are available. At the federal level, you can get an $150 tax credit toward the cost of an energy audit. Getting more than one bid is always a wise idea.
Make An Electrification Plan
Start to build your road map to an efficient home powered by clean energy by considering when is the best time to make improvements. For example, you might need an electrical panel upgrade before your home can accommodate new appliances. But you may be able to avoid a costly overhaul of your electrical service if you plan to buy low power appliances or install devices to manage your electrical load.
Depending on your region’s climate, weatherizing your home early in the process could be a big help. By reducing energy demands, insulating and caulking could allow you to buy a smaller, less expensive heat pump system or put fewer solar panels on your roof.
Consider when it would make the most sense to replace specific appliances based on their cost, age, contractor availability and incentive restrictions. For instance, there’s a 30 percent federal tax credit — known as a 25C credit — available to help offset the cost of installing a heat pump or a heat pump water heater, but it maxes out at $2,000 annually. If you buy those two pieces of equipment in different years, you could claim the credit twice for total savings up to $4,000.
If you’re a renter, put efficiency and electrification incentives on your landlord’s radar ahead of time in case any appliances that use oil, methane, or propane break down. Consider ways to electrify your life, such as the window mounted heat pumps that are just becoming available, induction cooktops, electric cars, and e-bikes. There are even heat pump clothes dryers and plug-in heat pump water heaters available.
Ask For Help
Decarbonizing your life is not something you need to tackle by yourself. There is lots of help available online. Rewiring America has a comprehensive electrification guide, and the DOE also has an energy savings hub that is a catalog of electrification and efficiency ideas.
Canary Media suggests checking out digital communities on Reddit or Facebook, where people who have already blazed a trail toward decarbonization are eager to share their stories. The new social media platform Nextdoor may also be a resource, as is any neighbor who has solar panels on the roof.
Lots of people want to decarbonize their lives, which is a good thing. Buying a new electric car may make you feel good but replacing your old furnace or boiler with a heat pump may actually lower your carbon footprint more and cost less. Keep in mind that there is a difference between an expense and an investment. That heat pump, combined with some extra insulation and caulking, could actually save you a significant amount of money — enough to pay for the equipment in a few years and put money back in your pocket every year thereafter.
Set a goal, make a plan to reach your goal, and them make it happen. A journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step. Make 2024 the year your journey to a more energy efficient, lower carbon footprint lifestyle begins.