Opinion: Electrify Your Home to Benefit the Climate, Your Health and Your Wallet

by Bethany Cotton, Conservation Director for Cascadia Wildlands
Originally published in The Register-Guard, October 2, 2022

If you are feeling helplessness about the state of the world, it’s understandable. In the past few weeks alone we have witnessed large swaths of Oregon blanketed by toxic air pollution yet again, hurricane Fiona leaving Puerto Rico without electricity and the Dominican Republic without drinkable water, one third of Pakistan still submerged by flood waters, four million people in Japan under evacuation and Alaska experiencing unprecedented flooding because of typhoons.

Extreme weather and accompanying failures of roads, water treatment systems, bridges, and power grids are no longer rare events. The causes vary but are of a theme: climate change-driven disasters of increased frequency and unprecedented severity coupled with infrastructure incapable of coping. It is happening across the world and at home. Earlier this year we saw unequaled flooding in Yellowstone National Park, cutting off access to northern portions of the Park through the peak summer season. 100-million Americans experienced record-breaking heat waves this summer, many of them in communities without widespread access to air conditioning. Drought is drying up rivers and reservoirs from the Southwest US to China to Europe, exposing messages from centuries past warning of famine.

Corporations are the primary drivers of climate pollution, and those industries have made every effort to avoid taking responsibility and shift blame to individuals. It is abundantly clear we need more systematic changes that require action by elected leaders — an end to federal fossil fuel subsidies, adoption of electrification ordinances at the local level like the current effort in Eugene, and increased investment in renewable energy and storage technologies. However, laws passed this year provide a timely means for individuals to take significant action at home.

The recently passed federal Inflation Reduction Act and the Oregon legislature’s heat emergency legislation both provide significant subsidies and incentives in the form of instant rebates and tax benefits for retrofitting, upgrading and weatherizing homes. Electrifying our homes is one of the most significant steps we can take to make our communities more resilient to climate change by reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. Installing a ductless heat pump provides both heating and cooling and lowers utility bills. The programs cover 50-100% of costs – including installation – for low and middle income households. Incentives are also available for stoves, electric panel upgrades, heat pump hot water heaters, dryers and ovens, as well as rooftop solar. Improved incentives for replacing windows and other forms of winterization are likewise included.

Rewiring America has a handy tool to determine which home upgrade and retrofit benefits are applicable to you as well as an interactive map showing the benefits available where you live. Their analysis shows the average household benefit for Lane County is $10,479. Renters can access some benefits as well as request upgrades from landlords, who are eligible for many subsidies, in some cases based on the income level of their renters. Take a few minutes to determine your eligibility and schedule work on your home – some subsidies are available now, some will be on January 1, 2023.

Taking concrete action is a potent antidote to climate grief. These home improvements come with the added benefits of lower bills, air conditioning and reduced indoor air pollution, too.

Born, raised and educated in Oregon, Bethany Cotton is an environmental attorney and the Conservation Director for Cascadia Wildlands, cascwild.org. She’s a regular contributor to The Register-Guard.