How do I electrify?

Plan ahead, and don't wait for a cold shower before you develop strategies to electrify.

It’s almost 7am on Tuesday.

You turn on the hot tap in the shower, switch on the clothes dryer (the clothes line has been off the cards since the second child), grab your toothbrush (single-tasking went with the first), check your messages again (would turning off notifications from the school make me a bad parent?), put your hand in the shower and … the water is cold.

You turn the hot tap off and on again, and this time notice the tell-tale absence of a faint ‘woof’ sound from the gas water heater.

Whether at this point you go the full Wim Hof with a cold shower or resign yourself to a deodorant day, one thing is certain: there isn’t a shopping-for-a-new-water-heater sized window in your calendar today. Or this week.

Have a plan

If you use gas in the home, but can install efficient electric appliances, your most cost effective and low-emissions option is to replace your gas appliances with electric ones.

Most people understandably wait until an appliance is no longer working, or needed, before replacing it. That  makes  sense for most appliances, but when it comes to replacing your gas appliance with electric, the decision involves more time and effort  and you might be waiting a few days for a hot shower. There are things you can do in advance to reduce that wait, and the cost.

Planning ahead for an efficient electric hot water system will avoid having to replace a gas hot water system with another (Image: iStock)

Planning for efficient electric hot water

When it comes to hot water in particular, it pays to plan ahead.

Know what type of heater you want I and where it needs to be located.  If you’re getting a plumber out for something else, ask them to confirm the best location for your efficient electric water heater. (and f if they try to talk you out of getting one, find a different plumber.) Even if your existing hot water system is traditional ‘resistance’ electric, unless it’s outdoors you’ll probably need a new location.

There probably isn’t a power outlet in the best position for a new efficient electric system, so consider getting an electrician to run power there ahead of time  - ideally when they are around to do other electrical work  - that way you wont be waiting without hot water for the electrical connection to be made, and you might even save money.

If your existing hot water system is old, consider replacing it before it fails – you’ll definitely wish you had if the failure involves a spectacular leak.

 

Planning for efficient electric space heating

If you don’t already have an efficient AC split system but you do have gas, there’s no financial benefit to waiting another day to go efficient electric. And gas heaters can last a long time; if you are waiting for one to break down, you’ll be losing money while you wait.

As a rule of thumb, replace each internal gas heater (flued or unflued) with one AC split system, and a ducted gas system with multiple split systems. You can get a ducted electric system, but they are less efficient than single splits, and you lose a lot of heat from the ducts, so it’s not the most cost effective or clean option.

If you need multiple splits but can’t afford them all up front, consider starting with just one in the room or rooms where you need it most, and use it instead of gas. You’ll save money from day one, and can put the savings towards future split systems.

Planning for efficient electric cooking

Replacing traditional electric stoves with efficient electric induction is pretty straightforward, but replacing a gas stove with induction will require a new electrical circuit, and for some, substantial rewiring.

Have your home assessed by an electrician experienced in induction cooktop installation. If they say you need extensive rewiring, it might pay to ask what the alternatives are – most people won't ever use all the hobs on a cooktop at once, and you might be able to operate three at a time without a major wiring upgrade.

An induction stove with one or two burners may be sufficient for some households, which could lessen the need for a major wiring upgrade (Image: Natallia Ramanouskaya, iStock)

If your stove is the last item to electrify, you’ll save a few hundred dollars each year in fixed gas charges. So if you only need minor electrical works for your new stove, it will pay for itself in a few years and there is no need to wait. If you do have to shell out many thousands for extensive rewiring and that’s not an option for you, we’ll discuss alternatives in a future article on options for the hard-to-electrify homes.  

Co-optimise your investment

For many people the trigger for electrifying appliances will be when you renovate or extend your home, or install a solar PV system.  This is great time to co-optimise your investments.

Getting a new split system for heating and cooling? Insulate and draught seal your home at the same time to reduce the upfront cost and running costs of your new split system.

Getting a new heat pump? Making some water efficiency improvements might allow you to invest in a smaller system, and will reduce your running costs.  

Make sure your solar system is the right size and your heat pump is operating when it's generating most, or if you don't have solar, choose an energy tariff that allows you to heat your water when it's cheap.

Make sure you are on the best tariff type and make sure your new efficient electric appliance - particularly hot water - has some ‘smarts’.Smart devices help further reduce your energy costs by monitoring your using and automatically operating at times when renewables in the grid are high and demand is low.

Doing these together will save on running costs, and may even save on upfront costs by allowing a smaller efficient electric water or space heater.

 

What about batteries?

If you use gas for hot water and are thinking about getting a battery at home to store surplus solar energy, consider what else you can do with that money. Batteries are still very expensive, and an electric hot water system with some smarts can store your surplus solar energy to use in your own home just as effectively for much lower up front cost, while slashing your emissions.

Home batteries aren't always the best option (Image: Reposit energy)

Compared to a battery, you might get similar returns for much lower upfront cost, or with the up-front savings from some of the building energy efficiency options noted above that will make your home more comfortable and lower your heating (and cooling) costs.

Where money is an object, think electrification and efficiency first, with a battery being the final step. Investing in those energy efficiency options now will allow you to get the most out of your future battery too.

 

What about rentals?

If you're lucky enough to be a landlord consider electrification to be an investment that will improve your rental value and resale value, and is likely to reduce your tax liability.  

The rental market probably won't always be as tight as it is now and energy efficient appliances will have more appeal for new renters and with lower running costs, they are likely to stay longer, saving you from vacancy and reletting fees.

What about finance?

If like a lot of us you don't have the money to hand for new appliances, look for the most cost-effective ways to finance them.  

State government incentives will help, and if you need to borrow, make sure it's from a low interest loan or you can extend your mortgage to take advantage of lower interest rates.

Be careful using a credit card for anything other than a stop-gap of a few weeks or months. Otherwise you'll erode any benefits from the electric transition very quickly.

Look out for hidden fees and bloated upfront costs often associated with after pay type options.

 

When do traditional electric appliances make economic sense?

While an efficient electric option is always best if you can use it, sometimes even a traditional resistance electric water heater coupled with solar will have lower running costs and lower emissions than gas from the grid.

We’ll discuss this in a future article on options for the hard-to-electrify homes.

Author
Craig Memery
Senior Energy Advisor, Public Interest Advocacy Centre
August 14, 2023
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