There are some things you just can’t un-hear. Perhaps I was doing that “eyes-shut-fingers-in-ears, ‘lalalalalal'” thing for years. But like fast-fashion and un-clean beauty, once you realize what you’ve been mindlessly purchasing you become much more intentional (despite not being perfect). Such is the case with gas versus electric anything in our homes (and cars) and boy was I ignorant on the subject until a couple of weeks ago. And I figured if I “knew but didn’t know” and I’m supposed to be “an expert in home design” then a lot of you might also not know so I’d be failing in my job if I didn’t write about it. If you are currently renovating or about to update your home PLEASE continue reading this post – I dedicate this post to you 🙂 Listen, I use smart lightbulbs, I buy local and vintage when possible, I (often) reject when offered a disgusting plastic straw, I’ve generally reduced my consumption drastically this last year, my wardrobe is tiny, we have a pasture-raised meat delivery system and we buy nuts in bulk! I’m a good person, right???!!!!! Well, let’s dive in deeper.
It’s not just plastic straws…
While we’ve been freaking out about plastic straws, the gas companies have been ramping up their marketing machines to distract us from the more looming energy crisis. I’ve now had multiple consultations on the subject of sustainability in the home with different experts – Josh Salinger from Birdsmouth Design-Build and Brian Stewart from Electrify Now. Through their generous giving of their time and expertise, I’ve learned so much. Don’t fall asleep – this is actually FASCINATING stuff. I don’t want to shame or guilt anyone – just empower (!!) us all to know that there are great options that we can feel proud of that will actually give us a better performing home, reduce our bills and maybe save the planet. No one can be perfect but with some knowledge, we can all be better.
But Wait, Doesn’t Electricity Come From Coal? And Isn’t Coal The Worst Fossil Fuel???
Yes. But it’s all changing, and as more and more states (and countries) invest in solar and wind, our electric grid will start switching over to those renewable CLEAN sources. Ideally, when we turn on the hairdryer it will pull “electricity” from solar/wind – “electricity” isn’t the bad guy, it’s how we get it that needs to change. The more of us that switch over from gas to electricity now (in addition to conserving energy), the more those clean solar/wind energy sources will grow and expand, the less reliant we are on fossil fuels in our home.
If you put in a new gas range now you will be stuck with it for decades. It’s not as bad as putting in baseboard heaters or lead paint – but it’s good for your health or the world, and eventually, you might have to rip it out and replace it with electric or induction. It’s actually good news. The building world has shifted and we have better, safer methods beyond natural gas now, the technology is so good and makes a better home. But I feel like no one is really talking to us about it – the designers, consumers, and homeowners – and helping us understand how important this is and how good it can be. I don’t go on environmental blogs and there aren’t big PR initiatives around this in the home space. There is very little of this marketed to you and I and the more educated I got the more I was like, “I’VE GOT TO TELL MY MILLION ONLINE FRIENDS!!!”
Wait Why Is Natural Gas Bad For The Atmosphere?
If you want a layman to break it down very simply here you go: Natural gas, propane, coal, gasoline – any fuel that burns, emits carbon into the atmosphere where it gets stuck for decades and the carbon then traps heat, creating a greenhouse effect thus warming the earth and creating natural disasters by messing with our atmosphere. I know that sitting in the mountains right now I see none of this and it does feel abstract but it’s real. By switching our electricity to be powered by wind and solar we eliminate this. Boom (but hopefully not).
Can Normal People And Older Homes Really Make Any Sort Of Difference?
Hear me out – I love this fact – 60% of our individual carbon impact on the planet comes from the ENERGY we purchase – our heating, water heating, cooking, venting, cooling, and operational usage (how much we use each appliance, light bulbs, hairdryer, etc). The other 40% is our purchases – food, clothes, beauty, and household stuff. The good news is that as Brian Stewart of Electrify Now told me that while consuming less “stuff” we can reduce that 40% down a few percentage points, but going forward, especially if you are renovating or building your house, you can get the other 60% impact down to ZERO. And by doing this you’ll actually get a higher-performing home with fewer bills and a better internal environment. Now, will the farm-house renovation net zero on the carbon footprint? Probably not because it’s old and we aren’t totally rebuilding it, but there is still so much I can do (see below).
I’ve been CONVINCED, while still nervous. I think it had all been so greenwashed for me to the point of not really listening, thinking “going green” would be really expensive, super hard, and frankly I was worried that “green technology” is too new, that it would breakdown because it’s not tested long enough in a home. This is chalked up to general skepticism due to ignorance. But Josh Salinger, from Birdsmouth (a high-efficiency home design/build firm in Portland), made me feel so empowered and more importantly excited to have a better farm and fewer bills. They are both helping on our projects in hopes that some of you will get excited to also implement some of our ideas and opt towards some of these better for us and the world. And not everything you can do requires renovation, AT ALL. But the first thing they both said was – BUY ELECTRICAL, NOT GAS WHENEVER POSSIBLE.
So Induction Range Instead Of Gas Range?
We are doing it. And besides, I certainly can’t go back now after writing this:) Here’s why:
- Many people, including chefs, say induction ranges are way better for actual cooking – better heat distribution, faster to boil and cool down, way easier to keep clean, and safer to the touch as they only heat the pot, not the top. Now the drawbacks are that there is a learning curve, you have to have the right pots and things like wok frying take some troubleshooting.
- Some of them are still beautiful! I had no idea. I definitely thought that some people just liked the more high-tech digital look so they went induction – a style preference – and frankly, it didn’t necessarily align with my farmhouse dreams. But we found some that are VERY beautiful, and as more of us start opting for these the price will start coming down and affordable brands will design better-looking models (just like integrated appliances).
- Induction is so much better for interior air quality for my family and the planet. I was THIS CLOSE to ordering our beautiful gas range, but since I have an opportunity to change my choice, I am. I cook broth on the stove for 24 hours without venting, I soup a couple of hours a day. I had no idea that I was emitting gas into my house the entire time. “Silly, Mama,” as Birdie would say.
Should I Throw Out My Perfectly Good Gas Range??
NO. Just be mindful of use and vent while using. That’s why this is dedicated to new renovators or people in the market of a new range – don’t go chucking something into the river that works. But for new purchasers, I was surprised to know that gas ranges aren’t used very much in Europe, illegal in many countries and many are pushing for them to be illegal to install in the states in the next couple of decades (specifically CA). So if you buy a gas range now (or gas furnace, gas water heater, gas dryer, or gas fireplace) you are committing yourself to decades of gas use, even as the energy grid changes more to clean energy. While we can’t eliminate the use of natural gas completely, the more of us that commit to relying on clean energy the better.
What Else Are We Doing At The Farm To Be Sustainable??
I’ve learned a lot and I’m not done learning or sharing. So far we’ve committed to doing the following which we’ll be blogging about later in detail:
- Opting for electric heat pumps over gas furnaces (currently shopping around).
- Electric heat pump water heaters over gas.
- Signing up for a Community Solar electricity plan so we get 100% clean energy in our home (if you don’t have Community Solar in your area you can put solar panels on your house or sign up for the green energy plan from your utility. Brian (Electrify Now) highly recommended this – and this is the one I’m joining, I’m also signing up for this).
- Electric washer/dryers instead of gas.
- Hiring a green insulation contractor for our insulation (which means yes, that we might now replace our vintage windows upstairs as their sashes are extremely drafty, the glass is dangerously thin and we can’t insulate around the frame due to their old rope/weight pulley system that needs to be clear for them to function). This is where it gets tricky to balance “going green” with “being wasteful”. So we’ll try to repurpose those somewhere if we can’t make them slightly more energy efficient (I have some exciting ideas).
But Are These “Green” Electric Products As GOOD, Reliable, And Durable As The Gas Counterparts?
This is one of my biggest questions with anything that is “green” – it has to still perform really well and I have to really LIKE IT. A “green” product that you have to replace in a few years is NOT green (this is also why I prefer vintage furniture over, say, chairs made out of recycled cardboard). So I asked this of both Brian (Electrify Now) and Josh (Birdsmouth) and they recommended products to me that have been around for decades and are really high quality (stay tuned). But the problem is that many installers and HVAC professionals just aren’t trained on them so, of course, they want to recommend the old reliable gas furnace. I get it, mastering a new system is hard and takes a lot of time and practice so most contractors just stick with what they think “works”. Also, listen I’m not an expert so maybe your particular house will have some needs or idiosyncrasies that don’t work with the electric heat pump. But there are a lot of contractors and HVAC experts in every city that can help.
Other Ways We Are ALWAYS Trying To Be Sustainable (Even If You Aren’t Renovating)
Before I learned all of this I had written down my sustainable philosophy for the farm, and nothing I learned negated it. I was naive, sure, but I also wasn’t wrong – I just am less ignorant now.
- We are buying so much less. It’s so freeing not to buy new clothes when you like what you have. It’s so liberating to get fewer boxes and have less to put away.
- Buying as much local as possible. Less shipping means less fossil fuels and supporting the local economy is always very important. Portland makers here we come 🙂
- Buying USED/vintage when it makes sense – you don’t have to ask me twice.
- Using what we already have and love, by repurposing/updating. For instance, if we can’t use our vintage windows we have many plans for where they can go on the property that make more sense (and will be so pretty).
- Donate what you can’t use that still works to places like Urban Renewal – they’ll be getting all our cabinets and former washer/dryer. AVOID THE DUMP Y’ALL.
- And most importantly, we intent to buy and install ONCE for long-term use, not short-term dopamine hit/satisfaction or “fun”. I’m now so careful of the phrase “switch things out” because while you can with lamps, etc, you should buy as if you can’t ever change it. Sure I’m going to have Christmas pillows (OBVIOUSLY) and I’m not saying I will deny myself the joy of shopping (and I realize my job is an occupational hazard to this philosophy) but I’ve just changed in this way. My budget allows me to be more intentional about every choice and so I will be.
But listen, throughout this renovation (and in my whole life) I’m not going to be perfect and CERTAINLY have made egregious errors in the past. We are still figuring out our fireplace situation (but NOT using a log set with a gas flame like we have now at the mountain house – I had no idea how wasteful they are). We know that our love of big windows, skylights, and fireplaces can let energy out if we aren’t really intentional about where, when, and how often we use them. But even this shift of being so much more mindful will make a huge difference to our family’s footprint. Heck, I’m even getting rid of my car because I hate driving, prefer to bike, and work from home anyway. I’ll Uber when I need and we’ll have Brian’s vintage truck (yes, a 1980’s gas-guzzler) for emergencies if Brian is out with the other car. See? Not perfect, but certainly more intentional about my impact.
I knew I couldn’t go in-depth in all the ways to be sustainable today because it’s just too much. But with so many people renovating right now I wanted to catch as many of you as possible in hopes of opening minds to at least thinking induction over gas ranges and electric heat pumps over gas furnaces.
Need proof of how pretty they are? Here are some that I’m considering:
Ilve Majestic II Series 40 Inch – So pretty!
Viking 30″ Electric Induction Range – Too small for us but pretty cute.
Bertazzoni Professional Series 30 Inch Wide 4.6 Cu. Ft. – Modern with a hit of classic.
Cafe 30 Inch Wide 5.7 Cu. Ft. – Again we are hoping for larger so this won’t work but totally cute.
Fisher and Paykel 36 Inch Wide 4.9 Cu. Ft. – This is too modern for this project but this is pretty simple and sleek.
AGA Mercury Series 48 Inch Wide 6 Cu. Ft. – Comes in many different colors! This is a real contender for me.
La Cornue Chateau – Lastly, A La Cornue that has induction options (but no pictures with that exact option). You can find these at Ferguson showrooms. Clearly, this one is BEAUTIFUL and very dreamy.
Thanks for your patience with this one. It took me obviously longer than I want to admit to “get it” but that just shows how we need better voices helping people understand the importance and we need more brands making good-looking and affordable home products. Frankly speaking, “being sustainable” needs better marketing, (Yo, Bill Gates – I’ve DM’d you like 6 times to chat about this). It’s not just lightbulbs anymore and the more the average homeowner demands better looking and more affordable high-efficiency products the more home building companies will scramble to fill that hole.
As we say in our house every night, “We love you, mother earth”. And while I know that I said like 19 things wrong in this article, many arguable that you’ll let me know in the comments, let’s use this to be a place of educating all of those who were or are ignorant like me. No shaming allowed (or comment threads will be deleted). Most importantly I’m glad we are even talking about it. HAPPY EARTH DAY<3
Opening Image Credits: Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: Velinda’s Tiny Kitchen Makeover Takeover (With Tons of Smart Storage Hacks)