We know that Northern Illinois winters can get cold. Really cold. It’s hard to imagine anything but gas or oil heat keeping you and your family warm during the worst of it.
When it’s twenty below zero, and the wind chill makes it feel way worse, you’d pay anything to make sure your family’s warm and safe, right?
Well, the good news is that you don’t have to.
We (Mike and Beth) found a winning formula for our home here in Elgin. We’ve all but eliminated our gas bill. And, our electric bill is in the negative: ComEd gives us credit for the unused power we generate and send back to them.
And, we’re comfortable all year round. We haven’t changed our lifestyle, and we’re just as warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Maybe even more so!
As parents of four children, we’re concerned with indoor air quality — and our budget.
As citizens, we’re passionate about energy independence: The idea that we shouldn’t have to rely on any government agency or foreign country to heat, cool, or power our homes.
And, as the owners of Compass Heating and Air, we have the tools and the know-how to find the best and most energy-efficient heating and cooling equipment.
After a few years of experimenting, we found what works for us. And, we want to help you get the same comfort, independence, and energy efficiency we enjoy.
At the root of it is an idea getting more and more popular across the country: Electrifying your home.
That means converting everything — cooking, heating, the works — to electricity.
And, heating is the big one. Your HVAC system uses more natural resources than anything else in the house. Especially if you’re on gas or oil heat.
You’ll find plenty of people who want to go 100 percent electric. That’s great! But here in the Fox River Valley, we deal with much colder temperatures than other parts of the country. So, it’s not always possible. Not yet, anyway.
So here’s our solution: A Daikin VRV Life system with a heat pump and backup gas furnace, combined with solar panels and Sense monitors that track our energy production and usage.
That’s a mouthful, we know. After all, we didn’t just install all this in our house at once! It took a few years to put this all together. And, it might not be the exact best setup for your home. But it’s a good starting point.
What we’d like to do now is break this all down for you. That way, you can see the choices we made — and understand the places where you have some different options. We’ll go over each topic briefly. Then, you can read up on other articles that explore each subject a little more.
The big step toward electrifying your home is producing your own electricity. Once you have solar panels producing your power, you’re relying less and less on anyone else to keep your house running.
And, once you produce more than you need, ComEd gives you credits for the electricity you send back into the grid.
Another bonus? Your electricity is “cleaner” than what comes from the utility company. There are no spikes and surges that can damage your electronics.
From there, the next step is finding electric heating and cooling equipment that uses as little power as possible. This way, you don’t overwhelm your panels and end up using the utility company.
Once your solar panels are in, it’s time to consider how you’re heating and cooling your home. Again, you want to use as little power as possible so your solar panels can handle the load on their own.
For that, you need a heat pump. These units don’t burn any fossil fuels to create heat. Nor do they send your electric bill skyrocketing in the summer when it’s air conditioning the house.
Instead, it only needs a tiny amount of electricity to perform a heat transfer process. Put simply: It moves heat into your home in the winter and out of it in the summer.
Today’s heat pumps will keep you just as warm as natural gas even when it’s negative 13 degrees Fahrenheit. And, even at that low temperature, you’ll be even more comfortable than you would with a traditional furnace.
As powerful as heat pumps are today, there are still a few days a year when it’s just too cold here in Illinois. That’s why we use a hybrid-fuel setup with backup gas heat.
Our Daikin VRV Life combines a heat pump with a conventional gas furnace. But, it only switches to fossil fuels for maybe a day or two every year. And, it does it automatically.
We set the temperature for the switch. When it gets that cold, the system automatically switches from the heat pump to gas. Then, it goes back to electricity when the house is warm enough.
For us, it’s as electric as we want to go. That extra assurance on super-cold days is important to us. Even still, we use natural gas for less than three full days every year.
As you begin the electrification process for your home, it’s important to understand just how much power you’re using and where.
Solar panels out now can handle the average family with no problem. But, we also use way more electricity than ever before. Especially now with more smart devices and more people working from home.
And Illinois has restrictions on how much power you can produce and how many panels you have. That’s based on your usage the prior year. So, make sure you know how much electricity your home needs as you plan for solar power.
Mike goes into plenty of detail on how to track that usage (and reduce it) in this podcast episode: Track And Reduce Your Home’s Energy Usage With The Sense Monitor.
You’ve got the solar panels. You’ve got the heat pumps. Where do you go from here?
There are still more ways to make your heating and cooling more affordable while relying on even less electricity.
For starters, make sure you’re paying as little for your equipment as possible! Local and federal rebates, plus offers from manufacturers, can bring down the price tag of a new heat pump system.
You can also consider a ductless mini split for extra comfort and customization. These systems use heat pumps combined with air handlers to heat and cool your home.
You can bypass old ductwork and treat every room in your home individually. Or supplement your existing system with energy-efficient heating panels. There are more possibilities today than ever before.
Is the air you breathe at home making you sick? There’s a good chance it is. Indoor air is often more polluted than what you breathe outside. That’s especially so in the summer and winter when your home is sealed uptight. Airborne contaminants build up inside your home instead of circulating back out through open windows.
Indoor air quality isn’t exactly a part of electrifying your home. Instead, it’s an important related topic. As you change the way you heat and cool your home, you don’t want the air to breathe to get worse.
And, it’s always a good idea to stay healthy. It’s easy to do when you have the right tools and strategies.