Electrifying your home can be a huge hassle. Helio Home wants to help.
The startup is one of many companies springing up across the U.S. to shepherd consumers through the complicated and multifaceted process of home electrification.
One of the biggest steps you can take to reduce your carbon footprint is to electrify your home. But often, that means navigating a confusing thicket of interconnected decisions and steps.
For example, before you buy an electric heat pump to replace a fossil-fuel-fired furnace, it’s a good idea to weatherize your home so it doesn’t take as much energy to heat and cool. Planning on installing solar panels? What size you get depends on how much energy you’ll need once your home is all-electric. Do you want to spring for a battery so you can draw on your stored solar power in the evenings, perhaps to charge an EV?
Can your electrical panel handle all this, or will it require an upgrade? And how much time and money is all of this going to cost?
If you’re overwhelmed by these myriad considerations, you’re not alone.
A few years ago, Eric Reinhardt, a former software product director at Sunrun, interviewed a couple dozen homeowners who had gone through the home-electrification process. Hearing about their experiences led him to realize just how confusing and onerous it could be.
“I started asking [myself], what do we need to actually build to make this easy for customers?” he said. His answer to that question is Helio Home, the Denver-based company he co-founded in 2021. It’s “a one-stop shop where, instead of calling five to 10 contractors, you’re calling one,” he said. “Instead of trying to manage and be a general contractor yourself, you’re getting a…holistic net-zero plan” — a plan, in other words, to enable your home to produce as much energy as it consumes.
Customized net-zero plans
Last year, Sekhar Paladugu and his husband Jim Burgess decided they wanted to electrify their home, but they ran into an unexpected problem: reluctant contractors. The couple lives in Denver, and because their 3,700-square-foot, four-bed, three-bath home was split into two heating and cooling zones, they had two gas furnaces and two AC units.
Burgess and Paladugu wanted to swap those four HVAC units for one air-source heat pump. Paladugu called more than a dozen contractors, but he couldn’t find one who’d go along with the couple’s desire to jettison gas completely. “Nobody would quote it for me,” he said. The few installers who would even consider it were adamant about keeping a furnace online for backup.
Then Paladugu reached out to Helio Home. Instead of naysaying, the startup designed a roadmap for fully electrifying the couple’s home and brought on contractors aligned with their vision.
Burgess was thrilled. “I didn’t think it was really possible,” he said.
Helio provides all customers with customized, comprehensive net-zero plans, which encompass pretty much everything that goes into clean-energy dream homes: insulation, air sealing, ventilation, solar panels, heat pumps, induction stoves, EV charging, battery storage and more.
The plans also show customers estimated costs, emissions reductions, energy-efficiency improvements, and annual rates of energy production and consumption, Reinhardt said. “Then we give [customers] the option of going down that roadmap at their pace” — whatever that might be.
Some homeowners “are ready for it all,” he said. Their mentality is “the patient is on the table; let’s just do the whole surgery.”
Others prefer to take things piecemeal, replacing equipment as it ages out, he said. “When they’re ready for the next thing on the list, we’re ready to come in and install it.”
So far, Helio Home has served more than 100 homes in the Denver area, helping each to avoid emitting, on average, 5 to 8 metric tons of carbon a year.
Helio is among a growing number of companies, as well as government- and utility-funded programs, springing up around the country to guide customers through the complicated and multifaceted process of home electrification. Most serve distinct territories and regions, partnering with local electricians, plumbers and HVAC installers to carry out the work.
Some notable startups include Elephant Energy, which, like Helio Home, operates in the Denver metro area; Amply Energy, which operates primarily in Maine; BlocPower, a Brooklyn-based company that has programs in communities in California, Colorado, Illinois, New York and Wisconsin; and Sealed, which serves customers predominantly in the Northeast and eastern Midwest: New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Wisconsin and parts of Pennsylvania and Illinois. Like Helio, these companies take on the role of general contractor, managing the many pieces of a home-electrification project from start to finish.
Bay Area startup QuitCarbon takes a different tack: The company develops electrification roadmaps for customers, but instead of managing the work itself, it refers customers to vetted contractors whom the customers pay directly.
If you’re looking for a whole-home electrification service near you, QuitCarbon has a handy list of home-electrification companies and programs in the U.S. and beyond.
Paying for home electrification
As you might imagine, home-electrification upgrades aren’t cheap. So different companies have different approaches for helping customers afford them, including financing, leasing equipment or monthly charges based on guaranteed energy-bill savings.
Many companies, Helio Home included, also keep track of the sometimes dizzying number of local, utility and federal tax incentives and rebates to lower project costs.
To pay for their main electrification upgrades — insulation and air sealing, solar panels, EV charger, ducted heat pump, heat-pump water heater and upgraded electrical panel — Paladugu and Burgess, the Denver couple working with Helio, tapped into federal tax credits and local rebates from the city of Denver and their utility Xcel Energy to take almost 40 percent off the cost of a $95,000 sticker price. They also used before-tax dollars from their flexible spending account to buy an induction stove — a covered health expense with a letter from a doctor, Paladugu says.
After putting about $24,000 in cash down for the upgrades, they took out a 20-year Colorado Residential Energy Upgrade (Renu) loan at a low interest rate to finance the rest (about $34,000).
In all, Paladugu said that over the long term, the investment is “pretty revenue-neutral” for him and Burgess. The couple used to spend, in 2021 and 2022, around $315 on average per month on gas and electricity. Now, they expect to cover their energy needs with their solar array while paying $322 a month on their Renu loan. An added benefit? They’re insulated against gas price spikes.
To help more families go electric, Reinhardt of Helio Home is looking forward to the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act’s income-qualified upfront rebates. Those are “going to help us move… into lower-income [households], which is super important,” he said. “I don’t want this to be a solution just for well-to-do people who can afford it.”
Electrifying homes in lower-income communities
To that end, Helio Home is partnering with nonprofit Energy Outreach Colorado to electrify the homes of 100 lower-income families over the next three years. “That’s really exciting for us,” according to Reinhardt, because the team is helping “homeowners who wouldn’t be able to pay for it on their own.”
The efforts are part of Denver’s Healthy Homes Program to specifically benefit homeowners with respiratory health conditions, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Burning gas indoors — especially in gas stoves, but also in heating appliances — exacerbates these health issues.
“It just feels good that…we’re addressing [these] issues,” Reinhardt said. “We’re gonna look back in 10 years and think it’s crazy that we burned fossil fuels inside our homes.”
The electrified life
Helio completed much of the work of electrifying Paladugu and Burgess’ home between May and July 2022. So far, the couple has been delighted with the results.
Their heat pump kept them “very comfortable” through last August’s 90˚F-plus highs and this January’s subzero lows. “Even at -13, [the heat pump] can find enough warmth in the outside air to warm the house,” Burgess said. “It just seems like magic to me.”
The last step of the project will be installing an energy-recovery ventilator this month to keep the home filled with fresh air. But the couple’s Helio Home story doesn’t end there.
Late last year, Paladugu read the book Electrify by engineer and inventor Saul Griffith, which lays out the climate case for electrifying every sector of the economy. Paladugu was so inspired that he left a job in agriculture tech to join Helio Home as the startup’s senior software engineer.
“I thought, this is the most compelling company [and] business thesis,” he told Canary Media, adding in a follow-up email that he sees electrification as “the most practical way to tackle major public health issues as well as climate change.”
The climate crisis often “feels out of your control,” Burgess said. Electrifying their home was a tangible action they could take — and while it might’ve been a “drop in the bucket,” “if we have enough drops, it’ll make a huge difference.”
With the Inflation Reduction Act’s massive climate incentives, he said, “I feel like there’s potential for…a sea change in home electrification and energy production.”
The original article from Canary Media can be found here.