Join us today as we dive into another big update for the Collins-Ruddy residence. Todd Collins and his family have been on a multi-phased journey to retrofit their existing home in Golden, Colorado. They’re on a journey to become as close to net zero as possible, while still maintaining a comfortable environment to live in. Their most recent phase featured literally capping their gas line after replacing their water heater and furnace. Today, we want to take a closer look at the water heater, what drove their decisions, how they approached the update, and how it’s working so far.
Why Cut the Gas to Your House?
One of their family’s goals was to get to net zero, so they knew cutting out natural gas was eventually in the cards. They have a desire to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel consumption as part of their core values. That meant eliminating all combustion appliances, including their water heater. Eliminating gas reliance makes for a healthier, safer environment, while also removing the variable of fluctuating natural gas prices on their monthly bills. Electric appliances don’t carry risks of carbon monoxide poisoning nor health risks of VOC’s from burning natural gas. Without gas entering the house, there is now no need for even carbon monoxide detectors.
Also, natural gas prices increased significantly during the last two winters, and now the Collins-Ruddy residence is not at the mercy of global demand for natural gas. Instead, they are more reliant on their own solar production of electricity as well as the more local costs for on-grid electricity. All in all, there was a compelling argument to kick that water heater to the curb!
Timing These Heat Pump Upgrades
Their water heater was already approaching its end of life, so part of the timing here was strategic. They wanted to be prepared, rather than be dealing with an emergency situation. The old water heater was manufactured in 2005, making it roughly 18 years old. They knew it could peter out at any point leaving them stranded without hot water, which is no fun, and especially problematic in the winter months in Colorado. Better to replace in advance of a failure!
Strategically Shifting the Water Heater Location for Better Performance
One thing most people think about is replacing the appliance itself, but not many consider relocating the hot water heater to a more strategic location in the home to eliminate heat loss. In the Collins-Ruddy home, they relocated the tank directly below the kitchen and baths, reducing the length of pipes by about 20-25 feet. As a result, there is significantly less heat loss as the hot water travels from the tank to the faucets. In addition, rather than waiting 30-35 seconds for hot water at the kitchen sink, they now wait about 6 seconds with the new placement.
After ditching the 40 gallon gas-powered water heater, they switched to a 66 gallon A.O. Smith 66-gallon all-electric Heat Pump Water Heater. While it is larger, it is incredibly well insulated. Should the power go out, it only loses 1.5 degrees per day. As a whole, they’ve been extremely happy with the solution. However, Todd shared how the new water heater takes heat from the ambient air around the unit and puts that heat into the water. As a result, the area around the water heater is noticeably colder while it is running. While running, the air temperature can drop between three and five degrees fahrenheit. They’ve learned the goal is to run it low and slow and note that the recovery time depends on what mode you have it on. So far, their family with two teenagers and two adults has been able to operate well on the heat pump only mode and with this amount of hot water. (Of course, keep in mind they’ve already done some things to improve water efficiency in their home including low-flow faucets.)
The update to the water heater was phase III of this multi-step approach to retrofitting their home in Colorado. The Collins-Ruddy residence still has a ways to go to get to net zero, but with each small step, they are improving the energy efficiency of their home while improving their own quality of life and well-being. We love the idea of building a passive house design from scratch, but that’s just not a reality for most homeowners. Most find themselves in a similar situation to Todd and his family, retrofitting an existing home to be more comfortable, more sustainable, and more efficient all around.
Are you remodeling and want to geek out over how to make your own project more sustainable? Call up our team for a chat. We love sharing what’s working in our own homes, as well as those of our customers.
Did you catch the retrofit phase I and phase II? Read the full story!