Should you ditch natural gas?

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Several regions of the country have passed or are considering legislation to prohibit natural gas connections in new construction, including newly built residences. It’s part of the march toward a greener, fossil fuel-free America. Which naturally fuels a question: should you ditch natural gas in your existing home?

It’s a complicated question. According to the American Gas Association, a national lobby group, nearly 187 million US residents today use natural gas to heat, cook and run their appliances. Switching from natural gas to other forms of energy has many practical advantages and disadvantages. Even the evidence that such a change would be the most environmentally effective measure is hotly debated by gas advocates and opponents alike.

What is the natural gas controversy?

Ironically, natural gas has always been considered a relatively clean form of energy (certainly compared to pollutants like oil or coke). Even today, it is often more reliable and affordable than electricity. The US Department of Energy estimates that the price of natural gas will be between one-third and one-half the price of other fuels until at least 2050.

Yet natural gas comes from fossil fuels. And, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, while natural gas generates about a third of the energy in the United States, it also accounts for 36 percent total annual emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change — less than oil (45% of all CO2 emissions) but more than coal (19%). Although coal is still used to generate much of our country’s electricity, renewable sources like solar and wind power will increasingly be used for this purpose.

“The combustion of natural gas for heating buildings and for industrial purposes contributes more than 25% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States each year. This means the burning of natural gas in our homes is one of the main causes of the climate crisis,” says Brian Stewart, founder of Electrify Now in Portland, Oregon.

Currently, more 77 localities — including Washington State and many California municipalities — have passed ordinances prohibiting the direct use of natural gas in new construction. And many other towns and villages are considering similar legislation.

Alan Duncan, founder of Solar Panels Network USA, explains that there are other reasons why the use of natural gas has become more controversial lately. “The price of natural gas has increased in recent years, making it a more expensive option for homeowners. And there are now many alternatives to natural gas that homeowners can choose from,” he notes.

What types of gas alternatives are available?

Natural gas is far from your only energy choice. Many owners have made the transition from natural gas-powered appliances and systems in recent years to other energy sources that power their homes, including electricity, geothermal and even hydrogen.

“Solar power, when combined with battery energy storage, is a great way to dramatically reduce carbon emissions and stay more sustainable,” says Ben Parvey, energy expert and CEO of BlueSky Power at Marlton, New Jersey.

Geothermal systems, which use the sustained temperature of the ground to cool or heat your home, are expensive, “but are a great way to provide heating and cooling without using natural gas,” adds Parvey.

For heating your home, an electric air-source heat pump, which also provides air conditioning, offers an energy-efficient and low running cost alternative, as does a separate heat pump water heater.

“For cooking, electric induction ranges and cooktops offer better temperature control and safety, are easier to clean, and produce none of the toxic emissions from burning natural gas. For drying clothes, electric dryers avoid the carbon emissions of gas dryers and are similar in terms of purchase and operating costs,” adds Stewart.

What are the benefits of switching to gas?

The benefits of switching from natural gas to other energy sources can include reduced emissions and a lower carbon footprint, increased durability, and possibly lower long-term costs, depending on the appliance or system.

“Electric heating and cooking provides more comfort and a better experience at home and it’s safer. Burning natural gas in our homes can create dangerous indoor air pollution, and natural gas prices will likely continue to rise faster than electricity prices. And for new construction, it’s cheaper to build and operate a home with all-electric appliances,” Stewart continues.

Many cutting-edge cooking appliances, like multi-function smart ovens, also tend to be electric plug-ins.

Here’s another sweetener: some states, including California, are offer incentives switch to alternative fuels. “Utility companies also offer discounts on electrical appliances, such as induction cooktops, heat pump water heaters and HVAC systems,” says Davin Eberhardt, founder of the information site on the Nature of Home home renovation in Ingleside, Illinois.

What are the disadvantages of going gas?

There’s a reason the gasoline ban laws only affect new homes. Integrating electric, solar, and/or geothermal into a home under construction is much easier than retrofitting an older residence with appliances and systems powered by these gas-free alternatives.

“It’s not very practical to switch from natural gas for a number of reasons. For example, buying new appliances is quite expensive, and there is no guarantee that the building will have the proper electrical hookups needed to accomplish the change,” Ron Lazarus, COO of New Cosmos USA, Inc., told Lisle. , Ill.

In addition to the high upfront costs of switching from gas, energy-efficient appliances like electric heat pump water heaters are still a relatively new technology that can be expensive, warns Eberhardt. Plus, “they may not last as long as gas appliances, service technicians may not be familiar with them, and parts may be difficult to obtain,” he says.

Also consider that many states rely on power grids that are already live and experience power outages at specific times of the year. If too many homeowners switch from natural gas to electricity, it is feared that this will put more strain on these networks.

“Unplanned outages affect approximately one in 800 natural gas customers each year. In contrast, electrical distribution systems experience an average of one outage per year per customer,” says Jake Rubin, senior director of public relations for the American Gas Association in Washington, DC.

Switching from gas to electric may not be as environmentally friendly as you think. According to Rubin, carbon dioxide emissions from homes using natural gas for space heating, water heating, cooking and drying clothes are about 22% lower than those from an all-electric home. . He also points to recent data from the Department of Energy that natural gas is 3.4 times more affordable than electricity and much more affordable than many other residential energy sources for the same amount of energy delivered.

Pay now, save later?

Gas antagonists counter that while a switch to electricity can be expensive upfront, it could be a worthwhile long-term investment, especially in conjunction with new technologies like heat pumps.

For example, Stewart indicates a University of California, Davis studythis indicates that an electric heat pump produces 45-85% less carbon emissions than the most efficient gas furnace in all regions of the United States

Also, while it’s true that gas provides more BTUs for the same cost as electricity, “electric heat pumps use one-third to one-quarter the energy of gas units for the same amount of heat delivered to your home,” adds Stewart. “As a result, their running cost is similar or even lower, as they consume considerably less energy.”

What to consider before making the switch

Committing to reducing your carbon footprint and reducing harmful emissions is admirable. But it’s crucial to do your homework before ditching natural gas, especially if you own an older home where making a change might currently be prohibitively expensive.

“Consider the cost of switching, the availability of alternative energy sources in your area, and their potential for long-term savings,” suggests Duncan.

There is no single decision. All you can do is study the facts, weigh your options, and consider all the consequences of turning off and turning away natural gas appliances in your home.

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