Transitioning to all-electric in Central Victoria - a 35 year work in progress

Motivated by environmental concerns rather than cost, Cath Davies first started her electrification journey by insulating and plugging the gaps.

A description of our house

We have owned our house since 1988 so our electrification journey is actually 35 years long. We live in a 6-room miner’s cottage in central Victoria. The weather here is cold in winter, sometimes below freezing overnight and hot in summer, sometimes over 35 degrees during the day.

The house itself is fairly flimsy in terms of its structure but strangely remains pretty solid. It sits directly on the ground with no stumps or bearers - which is not uncommon in these parts - but it means trying to insulate underfloor is nearly impossible.

The main four rooms would have been built around 1890, and the back part was tacked on later to incorporate the outside kitchen. We recently renovated the bathroom and because we had to dig down to lay pipes, we were able to put in some insulating board in the floor plus cement sheet and tiles. We also insulated the walls with batts and sisalation so that room is now well insulated.  

The rooms are small - mostly 4 x 4 metres - with a central hallway leading to the back part of the house. We previously used open fires in the back, and a gas wall furnace in the front part of the house, which we bought second hand for $50 in 1989 and decommissioned in 2022, so I guess we would have to offset some of the usage against the upfront cost! But not the environmental cost of course. We also installed a wood burning stove in the kitchen which has reduced our gas consumption.

Over the years, as money has allowed, we have focused on insulating the walls and getting double glazed windows. We now have one large window and two French doors still to double glaze and a couple of outside walls still to insulate. There are significant gaps around the doors which we address with door snakes and curtains.  

In 2019 we installed wall to wall carpet with good underlay which has made a big difference to the wind coming up between the floorboards.

As well as making the house more weather-proof, the second part of our transition was to upgrade appliances when we were able to, usually when equipment came to the end of its life to reduce waste.

Getting into hot water

When we bought the house it had an electric water heater, which entitled us to a government rebate when we changed over to gas!  When the water heater gave up the ghost in 2012, we opted for a solar gas boosted system from Apricus. On reflection, this further locked us into gas but at the time we thought getting the solar system with the gas boost was a good option. I don’t believe there was an option for an electric boost at that time.

Our local green energy group, Breaze Ballarat, organised the sale and installation of the hot water heater and we received a $1,000 solar hot water rebate through the Renewable Energy Bonus Scheme. With the bulk buy discount, STCs (small scale technology certificates) and VEECs (Victorian Energy Efficiency Certificates), which the Victorian government provides, and the rebate, the system cost us $2,346.

I don’t have records going back that far to see how the system impacted our consumption, but we used the gas boosted system from the beginning of 2012 until the beginning of 2023, when we installed a heat pump. We still have the evacuated tubes on our roof and the tank sitting on our veranda, which I would dearly love to pass on to someone to repurpose.

Sunny days

In 2020, we were able to afford solar panels & they were installed in August, but because we had the evacuated tubes on the roof from the solar hot water system we were only able to fit 10 panels and a 3.3 KW system.

We bought the system through a local community bulk buy program, MASH, which provided a discount from the supplier and installer. MASH also provides free 5 KW systems to community groups in the region once a certain number of systems have been sold.  

The solar system cost a total of $6,300, however with the bulk buy bonus, the small-scale technology certificate (STC) government incentive, and the Vic Solar rebate, we ended up only paying $2,162.

I’ve kept track of the cost of both electricity and gas since 2017. In 2020, our electricity bill was $965 [but the solar panels went on in late August]. The previous year it was $1,209, but in 2021, it dropped to $609, even though in July that year I started working from home 5 days per week.

Our gas consumption was $1,292 in 2019, $965 in 2020, $970 in 2021 and $689 in 2022 but we were away camping from July to September of that year.

The turning point – getting off gas

In October 2022, we decided to renovate our kitchen. This was the turning point to get off gas. We changed our gas stove and oven and replaced it with an induction cook top and an electric wall oven. The stove was well at the end of its life – we were given it by a mate for nothing 20 years before, and it ended up in recycling at the tip.

Finalising the gas bill was straightforward. We weren’t charged a disconnection fee - they just sent us a final bill. My partner rang the gas company and told them we were moving house and wanted to finalise the gas bill. We left the gas meter in situ in case anyone else ever wanted to reconnect the gas.  

Our final gas bill of $12.13 came in January 2023. It went from $689 to $12.13, an overall saving of $437. Our electricity bill increased though by $240 between 2022 & 2023.

The cost of the electric appliances was $749 for the wall oven, and $1,145 for the induction stove top. I have been a cook for a lot of my working life and always cooked on gas. I thought it was the best form of cooking, so I was quite nervous about changing to the induction stovetop.

However, it has been an easy transition. The stove I bought is not overly fierce, so things don’t get over the top hot when you turn it up. It’s also very responsive to heat increases or decreases.

Cath has worked as a cook most of her life, using gas stoves, but found the transition to induction cooking easy.

I’ve been able to use most of the pots I already had. Only my beloved copper pot and my 2-stack steamer are now redundant. However, induction plates are now available which allow you to use most pots which normally can’t be used on the induction.

We also have a single gas ring attached to a gas bottle which we use for camping. We haven’t invested in a home battery, so it is good to have a backup for boiling a kettle to make a cuppa if the power goes out, which it does with monotonous regularity here in central Vic.

At the same time as we renovated the kitchen, we decided to install a heat pump hot water system. When the plumber came to install it, we also got him to cap off the wall heater and disconnect the gas meter.

The heat pump was quite expensive. The Victorian government currently offers very low-cost or free heat pump water heaters, however we decided to go with a Reclaim heat pump and an Earthworker Energy stainless steel 350 Lt tank because we wanted a system with good warranties that would last. With the government rebate, we paid $5,000 for the system. We’ve configured it to heat during the day when we are producing our own energy so the cost to heat our water is minimal in summer.

Electricals

We had two electricians do the installations. One team came to do the wiring for the fuse box and the other connected it all up.

The first team charged for the following installations: hot plate circuit ($500), oven circuit ($300), new main earth ($200), 3 x 20A circuit breakers, 1 x 10A circuit breaker ($200).

The second electrician charged $190 to connect the stove top and wall oven and install an isolating switch for the induction stove along with 2 power points.

Our heat pump agent organised the electricians and plumbers for the heat pump, and our builder organised the electrician to come and connect it all up.  

We were told that we might need to upgrade our wiring to the fuse box as the induction stove might make it blow if other appliances are used at the same time. This has never happened.

Space heating in transition

The only issue that now remains on our electrification journey is how to heat the house.

We still have our wood burning stove which we light when winter really gets going. But for those off days we don’t have an instant source of heat. The rest of the house has small rooms so it is difficult to install split systems in each room. We also don’t like blown heat.

Throughout the winter months of 2023 we only used electricity and wood to heat the house. Last winter we installed two 1,000 Watt LIV heaters - one in the front room and one in the study.

The study is 3 x 4 meters, and all the walls and roof are insulated, and the windows are double glazed. The heater works really well in there - we set the thermostat to around 19 degrees and it maintains a fairly constant temperature. This is my work-from-home room so the heater is on all day for 3 days per week.

However, the heater in the front room does not do so well. It needs to be constantly on to warm the front part of the house, and we can’t seem to justify heating a room that we are not always using. Also, the room is not properly insulated and only one window is double glazed. It may work better when these issues are addressed, and the thermostat can keep it at a constant temperature, and turn off when it reaches that.

Last year we also used an oil filled electric heater to heat the lounge room in the evening from about 6pm – 10 pm. My partner has a studio which he also heats with an electric heater.

Even though we’ve been using these heaters our costs have reduced. The last 2 years have also been rather cool and overcast in central Victoria so hopefully with better conditions our solar output might increase. I have also looked into heat pump heaters and infrared heaters but currently we’ll stick with what we are using, imperfect as it is.

 

It’s not about the money

My motivation for moving to an all-electric home was not about cost. I have not done the maths on offsetting the cost of buying new appliances against the cost of running them. We have tried to allow things to wear out before getting a new appliance when we would have to replace them anyway.

We have chosen to replace them with electric and will do the same when our Yaris gives up and we buy an electric car because I am more interested in the environmental impact of getting off gas and decreasing our consumption of fossil fuel generated electricity. I'm also aiming to future proof our home so that when we are older our costs will be lower.

I have looked into getting a battery and consulted with an environmental energy consultant. He worked out that it would take us 14 years to pay off the battery at our present consumption and present prices.

For the immediate future my strategy is to finish double glazing the doors and windows. However, this might cost the same, or more than a battery, and so I’ll want to consider what will be the most benefit environmentally.

For now, heavy curtains and door snakes are quite effective in a small home.

Author
Cath Davies
March 12, 2024
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