Neighbors Adapt Their Homes for Climate Change
By Amy Kiser, Verdant Communications & Project Management
On a recent weekend in May, the free, virtual East Bay Green Home Tour gave local residents a chance to learn what their neighbors are doing to combat climate change, improve air quality, generate clean energy, and move towards a safer, healthier, greener future. Consisting of short, pre-recorded video tours of 12 local homes, the tour also included live Q&A sessions with the homeowners and renters, plus presentations by experts on relevant topics like carbon sequestration, green home strategies for renters, and how to electrify your home on a 100-Amp electric panel.
The tour – which can be viewed at EastBayGreenHome.com – features several Berkeley homes, including an all-electric ADU rental, a straw bale ADU, and a merged-yard home with extensive greywater and rainwater catchment systems. Last year’s Green Home Tour showcased seven more Berkeley homes and homeowners, in both the flats and the hills.
In the East Bay, climate change has begun to cause higher average temperatures, heat waves, deeper drought, and a longer, more devastating fire season that fills the air with smoke. Removing natural gas appliances (like stoves, furnaces, water heaters, and clothes dryers) and shifting to renewable energy are major through-lines of the homes shown on the Green Home Tour. But other climate adaptations are also on display, such as fire protection strategies, water conservation features, and ways to make your property a carbon sink. The second day of the tour highlights programs that enable low- and moderate-income residents to do substantial clean-energy retrofits of their homes.
The East Bay Green Home Tour is the brainchild of Amy Kiser, a communications consultant who co-chairs the Berkeley Electrification Working Group, a spin-off of the Berkeley Climate Action Coalition. Amy and co-chair Tom Graly were on the look-out for opportunities to educate local residents about home electrification, and the idea of holding a tour kept coming back to them. In Berkeley, buildings account for 37% of greenhouse gas emissions, so any road to avoiding catastrophic climate change runs right through our homes.
With encouragement from Kathy Kramer, who temporarily took the Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour online during the pandemic, Amy began the search for local homeowners who would share their homes virtually. Amy’s son Jude – a recent Berkeley High graduate – served as the videographer, drone pilot, and video editor for the tour. Tom and other members of the working group offered up their homes to be recorded for the debut event.
The cornerstone of the East Bay Green Home Tour is neighbor-to-neighbor education. “Adoption of new technologies and ways of living happens along social networks,” says Amy. “When you hear about solar, heat pumps, or induction stoves from a neighbor or friend – they can be real about their process, what they figured out, and how they like it. Peer-to-peer conversations can be way more motivating than government or business campaigns.” For the homes shown, Amy sought out a diverse array of people, homes, and features. “I want people to be able to see themselves or their situations reflected, so they can imagine a path forward. Plus, it’s just fun to peek into this great variety of living spaces and to see what these interesting people have done.”
The tour takes a hyperlocal approach, connecting people with the regional vendors, installers, free energy consultants, rebates, and websites that can guide and enable their journey. “So much is happening behind the scenes at local, county, and state level to incentivize homeowners to transition away from gas appliances. But most people don’t know about these initiatives,” says Amy. “The building decarbonization movement is a juggernaut that is still largely invisible to most homeowners. I want them to know about the opportunities – and to get on board!”
Berkeley Vice Mayor Harrison's Climate Equity Action Fund will soon launch, with opportunities to electrify very low-income Berkeley homes. Regionally, East Bay Community Energy has recently partnered with Brooklyn-based Bloc Power to electrify low and moderate-income homes in the East Bay. At the same time, rebates to replace gas appliances with electric alternatives are flowing from BayREN, East Bay Community Energy, and California’s TECH program. And the Inflation Reduction Act recently passed by Congress includes rebates and tax breaks for consumers who add efficient heat pumps, rooftop solar, electric HVAC and electric water heaters.
“Thanks to East Bay Community Energy, our electric grid is rapidly transitioning to clean, renewable energy,” says Amy. “Meanwhile, natural gas stays dirty, polluting, and health-degrading, from the well to the pipeline to the pilot light in your kitchen stove.” Amy’s first electrification step was to switch out her gas stove for an induction range, motivated by the studies showing that gas stoves alone increase the risk of a child developing asthma by over 40%. “My husband and son have asthma, so I’ve become an indoor air quality evangelist.” The tour marries Amy’s home endeavors with her two decades of climate work, as the former Director of Education and Engagement at the Ecology Center. The City of Berkeley’s Office of Energy and Sustainable Development and the Ecology Center partner with her to produce the Green Home Tour.
“I’ve never liked how individual action has been pitted against collective action,” says Amy. “I consider them both essential. When I wake up in the morning and read the news, I can be filled with despair before my feet hit the ground. An antidote to that feeling is to make change where I have the most power and agency – which is my home and my community.” With the East Bay Green Home Tour, neighbors can learn how to make their homes ready for a greener future, and in doing so, make it easier for everyone who comes after.
EastBayGreenHome.com to watch both the 2022 or 2021 Green Home Tours
EBCE.org/clean-power-appliances for home electrification information, resources, rebates
BayREN.org for rebates, contractor database, and free home energy consultation
City of Berkeley Office of Energy and Sustainable Development
Photo credits: Sarah Deeds of Deeds Design, Lenny Gonzalez, and Jude Rockafellow