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What is an all electric building?

Clean Heat, Clean Air | Educational Building Block #1

Welcome to the Massachusetts Clean Heat, Clean Air campaign educational building block series! This series was created by Mothers Out Front members to share key concepts and terms from our campaign for healthy homes & communities. These building blocks are intended to be short, easy learning opportunities for busy advocates.

What is an all-electric building?

Right now, odds are you live and work in buildings that are fueled by gas, propane, or oil heat. These buildings are bad for our climate and bad for our health – we can’t solve the climate crisis when we have hundreds of thousands of little gas pipelines running directly into our homes or trucks pouring oil into our furnaces. Today, the onsite combustion of fossil fuels in Massachusetts’ buildings makes up over a quarter of our statewide emissions.[1]

For this first building block, we’re going to focus on one solution: All-Electric Buildings

Image Source: Sierra Club

A key goal of our campaign is ensuring sustainable, comfortable buildings for everyone. The campaign team will present goals and strategies for this work in the near future. For now, we want to stress that our goal is new government and utility programs that make this transition affordable for every family. The financial and technical burden for this transition cannot fall on individuals and we don’t expect you to make these changes on your own.

All-electric buildings burn no fossil fuels onsite. No gas or oil for heat, stoves, hot water, washing machines, fireplaces, or anything else for that matter. All-electric new construction is cost effective and practical with today’s technology. It’s also sustainable. As state law in Massachusetts requires our electricity to come from ever-increasing amounts of renewable energy, an all-electric home will eventually have no direct carbon emissions

Key Terms:

Heat Pump

When we think of electric heat, many of us think of electric baseboard heaters. You know, these guys:

This? Not what we want. Meet the heat pump:

Building electrification runs on heat pumps. Heat pumps heat and cool buildings – two for the price of one! They are more efficient than gas heat and effective in cold climates.

There are two types of heat pumps. Air source heat pumps, which move heat between a building and the outside air, and ground source heat pumps which require digging wells into the ground to exchange heat. All buildings are different, but in general, air source heat pumps are easier to install but ground source heat pumps are cheaper to operate.

Air Source Heat Pump

Heat pumps use a compressor to move heat into and out of your home. In the summer, heat pumps operate as air conditioners and in the winter they extract heat from the outdoor air to warm your home. Heat pumps are approximately three times as efficient as gas boilers.

Image Source: MassCEC

Ground Source Heat Pump

Ground source heat pumps rely on consistent temperatures deep in the earth to cool buildings in summer and heat them in winter. Once installed, GSHPs are the most efficient heating and cooling system currently available

Image Source: MassCEC

Induction Cooking

Fear not! Electric cooking has also come a long way since the 1950s.

Image Source: General Electric Advertisement, FineArt America

Induction stovetops, powered by electricity, offer a clean alternative to gas. Cooking with induction is safer, more precise, and faster than cooking with gas, and induction cooktops do not produce the harmful indoor air pollution associated with gas ranges. Flat-top electric ranges are also a safe choice.

Image Source: The Switch is On

The sustainable building world has insider language. Net-zero, embodied carbon, retrofit, passive house, weatherization, and beyond – and even experts don’t agree on the definitions for many of these terms. We can dig into some of these concepts in upcoming building blocks. Please let us know which ones you find the most interesting!

Deep Dive:

[1] Massachusetts 2050 Decarbonization Roadmap, Page 44