Karie and Drew Johnson decided the construction of a new addition to their Highland Park home was the perfect opportunity to complete a project they had begun more than six years earlier. The project involved replacing every gas appliance they had with electric ones. By removing natural gas from their home, the Johnsons believe their house is safer, healthier and more comfortable. Xcel Energy has even given them a special rate on electricity that is slightly lower than what other customers pay.
 
electric home
Karie Johnson shares a light moment with husband Drew as he reheats a stir-fry on their new Electrolux induction range. Photo by Brad Stauffer

Drew said he began thinking about going all electric in 2015. Karie began researching what it would require for the family to do that. Clean energy advocates such as the Johnsons point out that utilities producing electricity emit far less carbon than natural gas companies. And with more than 60 percent of Xcel Energy’s power generated from wind, nuclear and solar, it is one of the nation’s cleanest utilities.

Six-year quest began with baby steps

The Johnsons began their six-year quest toward electrification with “baby steps,” they said. “At first we thought we maybe couldn’t electrify everything in our house, so we started with the dryer, which needed to be replaced,” Drew said. Next came an experiment with cooking with electricity by buying a used induction stovetop from the local ice cream parlor, Cold Front.

Induction stovetops operate more efficiently than electric ranges and use no natural gas. Karie found cooking on the portable induction stovetop different from a gas range, but she figured the family could adjust. Once they had, the Johnsons bought a new Electrolux induction range. “It’s very responsive and immediate,” she said. “It’s close to cooking with gas, but it’s a lot safer because there are no flames nor nitrous oxide nor carbon monoxide off-gassing.”

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Upgrading their water heater and furnace

When the Johnsons decided to add two bedrooms and a bathroom to the second floor of their home along with an expanded first floor, thewy saw other opportunities for electrification. Their old gas water heater had been flagged for poor ventilation and needed to be replaced, so they had a Rheem electric heat pump water heater installed. They soon discovered a side benefit to heat pump water heaters; they also work as basement dehumidifiers.

Electric heat pump water heaters are three times more efficient than electric water heaters and seven times more efficient than gas water heaters, according to the Johnsons. And as it turned out, the heat pump technology served as a foundation for their next significant electrification investment—a cold climate air source heat pump.

In Minnesota, air source heat pumps are primarily installed for air conditioning, but they can also be used to heat homes during the colder months of spring and fall. However, a new line of heat pumps has proven to be big and strong enough to heat homes even in subzero temperatures.

The Johnsons installed a Mitsubishi air source heat pump capable of comfortably heating a home when the outside temperature drops as low as 13 below. What happens when it gets colder? “We have backup electric heat built into the system that kicks in if necessary,” Karie said. The main portion of the Johnsons’ home is heated through vents, while a “mini-split” serves the new addition. The air source heat pump also provides air conditioning, something the Johnson home did not have.

Little difference in the quality of appliances

The family has detected little difference between electric and gas heat. Will Johnson, Karie and Drew’s high school-age son, said the air source heat pump “hasn’t  really changed the quality of the heating all that much, but it’s much better for the environment.”

“And the way the air circulates with the new system is so much better than it was with the old one,” Karie said.

The only drawback to the air source heat pump is that it takes slightly longer to warm rooms, Karie said. As for the cost comparison between gas and electricity, that remains somewhat of a mystery because the house with its new addition is so much larger than when the family heated with natural gas. “But from what I’ve seen, it’s a wash,” Karie said.

The Johnsons have reduced their carbon footprint in other ways. They bought a used Nissan Leaf in 2017 and chose to offset all of their electricity consumption with wind energy through Xcel’s Windsource program. Eventually, they plan to install solar panels on their house.

The Johnsons like to show their home to others interested in electrification. “I believe we’ve established that going all electric is not only something that can be done, it’s necessary to move us forward into a world where we’re relying on clean energy,” Karie said. “I read recently that global energy demand is expected to increase by 50 percent or more in the next 30 years. The only way I can see to meet that demand and maintain a livable environment on earth is to transition to clean energy.”

— Frank Jossi

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