If you want to see a Santa Fe Realtor shudder with reflexive loathing, tell them you have an all-electric home you need to sell. It’s only one step above former meth lab. And for good reason: Most all-electric Santa Fe homes are crazy expensive to heat with their ugly baseboard heaters.
Back in the day, the passive solar pioneers installed them as cheap back-up heating to their carefully designed systems of strategic glazing, with overhangs for summer shading and winter sunbeams that shone on the massing in walls and floors. The cheap systems became so popular that builders who didn’t know passive solar from a baby’s pacifier put them in because everyone else was. Big mistake.
Our natural fear of all-electric homes was thrown for a loop, however, when visionary architect Ed Mazria, the guru of passive solar, proclaimed a few years back that the future of buildings was all-electric everything. Huh?
Of course Mazria assumed, correctly, that one could design and live in a home covered in solar panels that provided enough power to heat and cool the home, heat hot water, turn on lights and TV, fry an egg, charge both cars in the garage and provide surplus power back to the grid for those older homes with no solar panels.
It turns out Berkeley, Calif., may be showing the way on how to get there. That city just banned bringing natural gas to virtually all new buildings. That’s right — all-electric homes, no gas ranges for cooking, no gas for heating hot water, and no gas for space heating. All electric. It helps that California recently mandated that all newly permitted homes be solar-powered.
Natural gas, plentiful in New Mexico, is seen as the responsible, clean transition fuel from coal to renewables. Good progress on that front is being made by electricity providers, but most homes are hard piped to burn natural gas. They are greenhouse gas-emitting power plants that really pump it out on cold winter nights.
In 2006, Santa Fe officially committed itself to having all new single-family homes be net-zero energy by 2030, as did many other cities gathered that year at the U.S. Conference of Mayors. It began Santa Fe’s march to zero through ever-more stringent green building codes, some of the most aggressive in the nation.
Then in 2014, the city upped the ante and declared it would be carbon neutral by 2040. That means everything. Not just new homes, but existing homes, vehicles, offices, municipal water treatment and pumping. PNM recently promised its electrical generation will be carbon neutral by 2040, which will provide a big step on Santa Fe’s path.
But weaning existing homes off the gas pipe will not be easy. The good news? Carbon neutral doesn’t mean the absence of carbon burning, it means other things offset the burning.
Net-zero energy homes are not caves. They are still power-hungry shelters, but with enough solar panels to go into negative numbers. Same with grid-tied, net-zero water homes mixing captured roof water with city-provided water and sending the balance down the sewer pipe.
For a whole city to be considered carbon-neutral by 2040 means a lot of radical things must be implemented on the new stuff to make up for all the old stuff that can’t or won’t be forced to change. That usually means housing.
In Santa Fe, the no-gas pushback is more likely to come from our world-class chefs blowing their toques at the prospect of no gas ranges than it will be from homebuilders. It might be a good time to invest in iron-based pots and pans that’ll work on one of those fancy new electric induction stove-tops.
Kim Shanahan is a longtime Santa Fe builder and former executive officer of the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association.