If you’ve read my work for a while, you know I’m into electrification - it gets rid of combustion indoors which is generally good for indoor air quality, and it allows homes to run on clean electricity which is good for outdoor air quality. Done well it also creates the most comfortable homes I’ve ever been in. It also readies us for a renewably powered future, as solar and wind paired with batteries are now the cheapest unsubsidized energy source mankind has ever known.
But we have a problem: HVAC contractors (especially in cold climates) and homeowners are often nervous about electrification.
In many cases with good reason, old school single stage heat pumps don’t deliver the best experiences. They’re known for cold air blowing very quickly out of vents, noisily ruffling curtains and making occupants uncomfortable when they get hit with cold air. Part of this is lack of commissioning, but much of it the limitations of single stage (and two stage) technology. (For more on HVAC types read the free HVAC 101 guide.)
Modern inverter driven heat pumps have totally shifted that equation - they’re quiet, blow much warmer air, and can provide far better comfort than either old school heat pumps or modern furnaces thanks to being able to load match (see BAD ASS HVAC part 1).
Now we hit another problem, as humans we tend to be doubting Thomases: we want to put our fingers in the proverbial hole in the hand. We need to experience things before we believe and internalize them. How can we provide this experience so that more consumers are inspired to do it themselves?
The answer may be quite simple: create an #electrifyeverything class for short term rentals from services like AirBnb and VRBO. Then let consumers experience the superior comfort and air quality by trying homes out that are short term rentals (aka AirBnb, VRBO, etc.) and have been electrified.
AirBnb and other short term rental services provide far higher cash flow than long term rentals, so they allow going above and beyond what you would do for a long term rental. A typical long term rental will cash flow $100-500/month (I’m sure CA is an exception, but these numbers hold for “normal” home value areas.) Short term rentals can easily cash flow $1000-5000/month depending on home size and how much is borrowed.
You may not know this, but my wife and I have been AirBnb hosts for years going back to 2015. We really just dabbled when we knew a bad income month was coming (building HVAC 2.0 hasn’t paid well!)
But then we decided to travel during COVID, bought a camper, and put the River House up on AirBnb. It surprised us by netting us $1000-2000/month after all expenses, which helped pay for our trip. It also inspired us to buy a second home in Fayetteville WV very near the New River Gorge National Park with the intention of renting it most of the year as an income property.
Then we realized that we love it so much here that we decided to move and instead rent our Ohio home most of the year. Now we’ve bought two more small houses to convert as well. Both need a good deal of love, love that they would be unlikely to get as long term rentals because the math just doesn’t work to do more.
Which brings us to the solution I alluded to: AirBnb and VRBO could create an #electrifyeverything class of properties.
As much as I hate rules because they tend to be a cause for pencil whipping and unintended consequences, I don’t want to see someone throw in a poorly installed single stage heat pump and stamp it guaranteed.
So I propose four rules:
Those will naturally lead to inverter driven heat pumps, better comfort, and better air quality while being fairly easy to achieve. Because short term rentals have higher margins, it opens up room for these sorts of upgrades, particularly if HVAC in a property is at end of useful life.
Did you notice that I am not talking about shell measures here? If an owner is ok with high energy bills and potentially poor comfort in a home that is supposed to be comfortable, the reviews and energy costs will naturally drive that work to get done.
A few thousand of these around the country could host 50-100 families each per year and give them the #electrifyeverything experience.
Say there were 2,000 properties that host 50 families a year each. That’s 100,000 families a year seeing what the hype is all about. That is likely to spark many more full or partial electrifications and likely more #electrifyeverything short term rental properties.
All of the homes would be substantially improved as well, which is good for US housing stock. These upgrades are likely to buy these homes an additional 30-100 years of lifespan by making them future proof and far more moisture resilient.
We’re putting our money where our mouths are on this, by the end of 2022 we will have 4 #electrifyeverything properties complete. The River House outside Cleveland needs central HVAC but does have an UltraAire XT155 ventilating dehumidifier for filtration, mixing, fresh air, and dehumidification. Our West Virginia house recently got a Bosch heat pump, it just needs a fresh air line and it’s complete. I’m currently figuring out how to electrify the two properties we just bought.
If it goes as projected by AirDna, a service that scrapes AirBnb data to help understand how homes in an area are renting and for how much, together these will create $40-60K/year of cash flow for us, enough that we don’t have to work if we don’t want to. (Although we'll likely use the money to create more of them…)
And there you have it, a path to solve for Doubting Thomases, let many homeowners experience comfortable electrified homes with excellent air quality, fix up properties that otherwise are likely to be neglected, and make money for the entrepreneurs who create the properties.
This could be like a brick on the proverbial gas pedal of residential electrification.
It’s also a surprisingly easy thing to make happen: AirBnb, VRBO, and other short term rental services can create an #electrifyeverything class.
So, what are we waiting for? If you know someone at AirBnb or VRBO, perhaps send this post to them?
Nate Adams is fiercely determined to get feedback on every project to learn more about what works and what doesn't. This blog shows that learning process.