In my self-proclaimed role as an eco-writer, my goal has been to persuade us that our actions on behalf of the earth are also those that will benefit us. I believe so, whether “we” refers to individuals and households or Santa Barbara, Californians, Americans, and earthlings. A healthy environment is a prerequisite for a healthy economy.
With this personal mantra, I was thrilled that one of the many Earth Day webinars I attended in April compared household planning for climate to household budgeting for family.
In budgeting for the expensive proposition of raising children, for example, you would want to consider everything from food, clothing, and books to electronics and medical expenses. You can set aside monthly funds for potential high-cost future expenses such as emergencies, buying a home, college, or wedding expenses.
At the same time, you can work towards the most energy-efficient household required for your family’s future by planning environmentally friendly infrastructure purchases. Unsurprisingly, these will save you money in the long run. You might consider a 20-year plan where you substitute greener choices for items when they need to be replaced:
» Solar panels: According to the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2020, the best solar energy programs now provide cheaper electricity than coal or gas. You can use this calculation to find the solar payback period for your own options. For most US homeowners, solar panels pay for themselves in 9-12 years.
» Water heating: Inefficient water heaters now face competition from heat pumps, indirect heat, integrated space and water heating, and solar water.
The Smarter House website discusses options such as gas versus electric, storage versus demand, and freestanding versus built into your heating system. It may be worth replacing your water heater now, even if it’s still working.
Cooking Fuel: The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has proposed a plan that would effectively ban the sale of natural gas appliances in new homes by 2026, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While cooks like me appreciate gas burners, electric stoves have improved dramatically in recent times.
If you have already installed solar or wind power, your source of electricity will now be more valuable.
In terms of oven types, convection ovens cook in about 20% less time. That’s a lot of energy savings for bakers. Self-cleaning ovens are also more efficient due to the additional insulation required.
Furnace/Space Heating: CARB’s draft plan also calls for gas heating in new homes to be banned by 2025. There remains the issue of heat pumps versus furnaces. For temperate climates like ours, heat pumps are more efficient than furnaces.
The least efficient heaters are those manufactured before 1992, when the AFUE (Annual Fuel Efficiency) standards came into effect. A 30-year-old system, which might have been rated around 56% AFUE, could emit 1.5 tons more CO2 per year than natural gas.
One advantage of investing in one of the home systems (other than the car) is that it will also increase the resale value of your home. This is partly because the initial investments have been made, but also because it presents a picture of a home that is up to date and ready for the future.
Driving: Gas-powered cars eclipsed steam and electric vehicles in the mid-1900s, but their reign is finally coming to an end. A 2015 analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists shows that “driving an electric car in California creates fewer greenhouse gas emissions than even the most efficient gasoline-powered vehicle.”
A gasoline-powered car would require fuel economy of 87 miles per gallon to compete with electric, even taking into account power plant emissions and battery life cycle.
In the crucial effort to minimize climate change and reduce its effects, governments have the largest share. Policies must favor renewable energies and reduce the consumption of water and fossil fuels. But people, as consumers and voters, have the ultimate power to drive earth-friendly policies with their purchases and their votes.
– Karen Telleen-Lawton serves seniors and pre-seniors as director of Decisive Path Fee-Only Financial Advisory in Santa Barbara. You can reach her with your financial planning questions at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.