16th November 2022
Previously I described my attempt to de-fossil fuel our house.
Progress was quite delayed by backordered equipment, a thoroughly enjoyable 10,000 km cross-country camping road trip (in an EV, for the record!), and summer family-and-friends time on the other coast.
Before we left on our summer trip, I had gotten the contractor lined up for the electrical work, and they got the permit, and did the install of the electrical work for both the heat pump and an electric water heater. That actually got done the day before we started the long drive from Vancouver to Ottawa.
The heat pump was backordered anyway, so I put down a deposit, and figured it would work out well: We’d just get it installed when we returned in August, and before it got cold.
Unfortunately, while we were gone, the City of Vancouver had been iterating on the heat pump regulations and by July they required both a separate heat pump permit, as well as a special course that the heat pump technician had to take in order to be eligible to pull the permit.
This is totally understandable in isolation.
However, I chose my heat pump installer based on them being able to retrofit gas hydronic in-floor to both heat-and-cooling, and this is very much a not-commonly available solution. Due to the unusual style of heat pump, I ended up with a contractor from quite a long way away, and while they’d installed a lot of systems all over British Columbia, they very rarely-to-never work in Vancouver proper. With the new course and permit being City of Vancouver-only, they were also understandably not overly excited to commute in to take a (multiple day?) course just to be able to pull a permit for me.
So I was kind of stuck, and they had a huge heat pump sitting in their shop waiting to be installed. I pleaded my case to the installers and while not too thrilled about it, they tried twice to get signed up for the course, but for reasons unclear were never able to actually get it done.
As the weeks passed it was getting more ensaddening. Doom-scrolling one night, I happened to notice a City of Vancouver tweet encouraging heat pump installs, and I succumbed to the time-honoured tradition of whining in replies on Twitter. For better-and-worse, this tactic totally worked, and soon thereafter an extraordinarily helpful sustainability advocate and member of the green buildings team with the City of Vancouver had reached out, investigated, and in short order had found a solution to the permit problem.
Having that sorted, there was just the usual problems of negotiating contractors to show up at the right times (gasfitter, electrician, heat pump tech, etc.) and not having them waste time waiting for each other.
We’re now almost de-fossilized, I’m hopeful by next week I’ll be able to call our gas provider to cut the natural gas line entirely. But looking at the overall state of things, I would say it’s still “kinda hard” to get here:
Each house is somewhat custom. It’s unfortunately not as if you just pop down to Home Depot and decide you want your gas/oil junk out, and load The Electric Thingy into yonder pickup truck and hook it up one afternoon. It would be simpler if your house is a “normal” forced air system with ducting rather than hydronic, but you still might not know exactly what you need, or what needs upgrading, or even what sort of contractor(s) to engage with.
Sort of related, but a lot of heat pump installers are somewhat “boutique” (i.e. 1-3 people). So they may not have all the skills/trades required, so you’ll need to coordinate a bunch of contractors for gas/electrical/plumbing and then maybe others, especially if you’re not comfortable doing small “extras” yourself (e.g. concrete, drywall/paint touchup, etc.) Also, in the Vancouver area effectively all trades are in high demand, and it can be a challenge to find someone who is willing and able to show up at a particular time, especially for a small job.
Supply chain, backorders, part price inflation, etc. are very much a thing.
Install cost is quite high. The Provincial (BC) and City (Vancouver) rebates to encourage switching are currently very generous here (assuming I actually successfully get the rebates!). But very roughly they get you cost-competitive with installing a “new mid-range gas thing”.
Unpredictable running cost: We (as in, Humans-of-Earth) are clearly learning that energy prices of all types are likely to be increasingly volatile, but I found it quite difficult to accurately estimate how much it’s really going to cost to run the system once it’s installed (again, somewhat going back to the “all houses are custom” bit). I think this alone could easily be a deal-breaker for many people.
So overall, you definitely still have to really “want it” to get this done at this point, and I think there’s at least a mild financial disincentive to doing so. As mentioned in the previous post, I expect running costs for heating to be higher than non-renewable natural gas by a factor of approximately 1.5x-2x. If you squint really hard and expect natural gas price to rise fairly substantially (without Hydro similarly increasing), you could maybe imagine it being a win. But given the political fallout that every gas price spike causes, I don’t really expect that.
I used to be paid too much to type code for some reason, so we’re in the unreasonably-lucky-situation of not being too sensitive to monthly heating costs. So I wanted to do this sort of for fun (?? my next project is probably IoTaWatt), and sort of as a “donation” to the common weal.
But it doesn’t feel like as a city/province/country we’re at the point where an average person would be very inclined to do these retrofits. Understandably, the emphasis is on legislation for how new construction is heated and insulated, and some of that looks great! But it’s still a bit sad when you think about how slowly existing buildings will change as a result.
I’m really happy with our new heat pump system all the same, and performance is great a couple weeks in. Having mucked through that, our status is now:
I don’t think I’m going to worry too much about the 20 lbs tank of propane per year for the BBQ, at least until we work on other larger CO₂e lifestyle changes.
Also, If you’re in the Greater Vancouver area I’d be happy to chat about our electrical, heat pump, and gas contractors, or the nitty-gritty details of the overall process if you’re interested!
Comments or corrections? Feel free to send me an email. Back to the front page.