As new state mandates go into effect limiting gas-powered appliances, one 2,000-square-foot barn near the Horse Park in Woodside is already all-electric.
Hilary Bates, a local architect, owns the Whiskey Hill property that has a single-family home, along with the barn that houses seven horses and includes a two-bedroom apartment above that's rented by a family of five. The barn, originally built in 1958 and converted to more efficient electric appliances in 2021, won a 2022 Peninsula Clean Energy All-Electric Leader Award.
In 2022, state officials moved to ban all natural gas-fired space heaters and water-heating appliances by 2030. Similar restrictions will take effect sooner in the Bay Area. In March, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District approved the gradual phase out of gas-powered water heaters by 2027 heaters and space heaters in 2029.
"It was always all-electric because I couldn't run gas down there," said Bates, a former member of the town's Architectural and Site Review Board, which reviews residential applications for community character, site planning, building design and landscape elements. "Old electric appliances run very inefficiently. ... I realized I could change out the stove and create an all-electric, state-of-the-art building."
The home has a heat pump water heater, an air-source heat pump for air conditioning and heating, a high-efficiency dryer and an induction stove. She also has a 6.4 kWh solar system tied to a Tesla five-battery backup system. She said since she installed the solar panels in 2020, she has not experienced a power outage.
The renovation used the barn's original footprint and foundation, but replaced all interior walls as well as the exterior shell and added double glazed windows, weather stripping and insulation.
"This may be one of the only all-electric multi-use residential, commercial and agricultural buildings in San Mateo County," according to Peninsula Clean Energy. "It not only preserves Woodside's equestrian heritage and makes best use of the all-electric energy efficiency options available today, it also provides critically needed housing which the state of California is encouraging through recent legislation to promote ADUs (accessory dwelling units)."
Bates is passionate about the move away from gas-powered appliances. She also serves on the board for Menlo Spark, a nonprofit collaboration of local government, businesses and residents working to help Menlo Park adopt measures by 2025 to reach carbon neutrality by 2030. In 2015 she became a credentialed LEED Green Associate through the US Green Building Council, according to her Menlo Spark profile.
The main home still has some gas-powered elements. She has swapped gas-powered water heaters for electric ones and added a 24 kWh solar array. Bates is still waiting for the market to come up with a 48-inch induction cooktop.
Home energy audits and rebates
Anyone unsure how much energy their appliances are using can get a free assessment from groups like Home Energy Analytics. This is what Bates used to measure the barn's energy usage because it was on the same meter as the main house.
Bates said there is a labor shortage of highly qualified subcontractors who can install heat pumps. BayREN.org provides an online tool for finding recommended expert energy consultations, services and installations.
Peninsula Clean Energy offers a $3,500 rebate to help San Mateo County residents switch to a heat pump heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system. Peninsula Clean Energy also offers zero-percent loans up to $10,000 for a heat pump or heat pump water heater project.
Redwood City offers a $500 rebate for switching to a heat pump.
Woodside's electric codes
Unlike neighboring cities and towns, Woodside opted not to institute bans on gas-powered appliances in 2019. Nineteen of the 22 agencies in the area have adopted so-called reach codes that impose greater restrictions than what the state mandates, according to San Mateo County's electricity provider Peninsula Clean Energy. The town does get its electricity for its municipal facilities from Peninsula Clean Energy's 100% renewable energy, Jan Pepper, CEO of Peninsula Clean Energy, acknowledged to the council in October.
Woodside Mayor Chris Shaw said that, from his point of view, it's important to have backup power because of the common power outages in town. Although gas fireplaces generally work during a power outage, gas stoves and ovens will generally not work because gas appliance ignition is electric, according to PCE and the Sacramento Bee. But Shaw and others in town have gas-powered backup generators that will work during outages.
"It has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not each of have responsibility to reduce carbon emissions," he said. "It boils down to the simple fact that our utility provider PG&E can not reliably deliver electricity. ... There are going to be multiple power outages every winter. With year after year of wildfires, you count on power going out year-round. We seem to experience more outages than other communities."
"It would be irresponsible to tell them you can't have natural gas," Shaw said. "It allows people to cook food, heat their homes, have hot water to take a bath. ... At the same time, the state is disenfranchising rooftop solar. It's putting the cart in front of the horse."
On Friday, April 14, most Californians who want to put solar panels on their roofs will no longer have access to the incentives that took effect a decade ago.
Still, Bates said she wishes town officials would do more.
"In Woodside, we have not yet caught up to Portola Valley and other towns of similar lot size and type by developing either a green building ordinance or reach codes," she said. "It's a shame because during my two years at ASRB, we approved some very significant estates, with large main houses, multiple ADUs, outbuildings and heated water features. Some projects that came before ASRB committed to going 'all-electric' immediately which is great, while others said they would at least consider it during the design process. That is at least some progress."
Bates said through this kind of work, the board was able to convince staff to now require that owners indicate the location of rooftop solar, which is now required by code.
"PV (photovoltaic) panels can be a major design element in terms of aesthetics, but also the roofscape needs to be considered early on in the design process so there is appropriate orientation and sufficient roof space for panels unencumbered by complicated gables, ridge lines or adjacent trees," she said. "While Woodside has a long way to go, it was a valuable start to awareness and discussion of the issue of electrification which is not going away. There is only so much impact that individuals can make on the issue of building decarbonization; this is where we really need to look to our elected officials to lead the way."
Portola Valley opted to adopt a green building code that includes few exceptions. In October 2022, its Town Council gave the go-ahead to require all new construction to be all-electric. The all-electric requirements apply to all newly constructed buildings and outdoor amenities such as outdoor kitchens, grills, pools, spas, fireplaces, fire pits and outdoor heaters.
It also requires major remodels to be all electric, and adds some new requirements for the installation of a heat pump air conditioner on the replacement, upgrade or relocation of an air conditioner, as well as pre-electrification requirements when replacing or upgrading the main electrical panel.
However, Portola Valley residents are required to replace their failing gas-powered devices with electric ones under this reach code. Owners of new construction projects which have already received planning approvals may apply for exemption from new green building amendments.
Atherton provides exemptions in new construction for indoor and outdoor cooking appliances, fireplaces and outdoor fire pits that use the fossil fuel. In 2022, it adopted stricter policies than other Peninsula cities for electric vehicle (EV) charging, requiring more level 2 chargers than most cities, including making EV chargers available to accessory dwelling units (ADUs), guest houses and pool houses.
In Palo Alto, developers are required to make all new buildings all-electric. And a new sustainability plan that the City Council unanimously approved in June includes the installation of new electric-vehicle charging equipment near multi-family developments and pilot programs to encourage the installation of electric appliances such as heat pump water heaters for single-family homes and electric HVAC equipment for commercial properties.
Learn more about the barn here.