Families like the McAvoys prove that it’s possible to increase energy efficiency and transition to all-electric equipment in existing buildings, saving money and slashing home carbon emissions.
A case study like theirs highlights issues that still need to be addressed, such as cost and best practices for installation. “Our existing building stock is one of our largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions,” said Rose Lathrop, program director for Sustainable Connections, a local nonprofit that promotes thriving communities, green building, zero waste and local businesses. “We have to tackle existing buildings if we want to tackle the climate crisis.”
But not everyone can afford the upfront cost of electrification and energy efficiency, and that’s an environmental justice problem, Lathrop said. “Our most vulnerable populations, the ones most impacted by natural gas and climate change, we need to help them first. We need to be putting our investments and resources toward that.”
However, electrification advocates have to tread carefully when encouraging lower-income families to switch off natural gas, or, in our case here in Juneau, diesel heating oil. While electric equipment can often reduce utility bills, it also has the potential to raise costs for certain households depending on the building itself and how energy efficient the new equipment is compared to the old. Proper air sealing, insulation, and snug crawl spaces and attic spaces are essential to keeping a home efficient, warm, and dry. Without these measures in place, a fuel-switching effort can be costly and inefficient.
Thus, transitioning existing homes off of fossil fuels needs to be done thoughtfully and with particular attention paid to each individual household. Renewable Juneau is proud of our work with our Juneau Carbon Offset Fund and we applaud the work of our partner Alaska Heat Smart for their work to expand their outreach to our lower income households.