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OKRs to electrify house

How I’m Using OKRs to Electrify My House

By Melissa Rappaport Schifman Editor-At-Large
Feb 28, 2019

 Last month, I wrote about Sustainability Metrics and the keys to measuring what matters in your home. “Measuring What Matters” happens to be a hot topic right now; it’s the title of a popular new book out by John Doerr: Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and The Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRsOKRs are “Objectives,” and “KRs” are “Key Results.” OKRs have been demonstrated to help align the team, individual goals and helped Intel, Google, and even Bono achieve tremendous success. At Rise, we are all reading this book and utilizing the methodology to become wildly successful!

measure what matters okr
Photo Credit: www.whatmatters.com

For a quick primer, and to take directly from the book (New York: Portfolio/Pengin [2018], pages 256-257), “Objectives are the ‘Whats.’ They:

  • Express goals and intents;
  • Are aggressive yet realistic
  • Must be tangible, objective, and unambiguous; should be evident to a rational observer whether the objective has been achieved.
  • The achievement of an objective must provide clear value for the organization.

Key Results are the ‘Hows.’ They:

  • Express measurable milestones which, if achieved, will helpfully advance objectives to their constituents;
  • Must describe outcomes, not activities. If your KRs include words like ‘consult,’ ‘help,’ ‘analyze,’ or ‘participate,’ they describe actions. Instead, explain the end-user impact of these activities.
  • Must include evidence of completion. This evidence must be available, credible, and easily discoverable.”

This got me thinking: if OKRs are used for businesses and non-profit organizations, why not use them for our own house?

Why You Should Stop Burning Natural Gas In Your Home

When we built our house ten years ago, it was all about efficiency. The general thinking back then was because natural gas was a more efficient and less expensive choice for heating. In addition, natural gas is a cleaner-burning fuel than coal, and because the electrical grid was primarily fueled by coal, natural gas-powered equipment was the cleaner choice for our air.

Now, though, as coal is becoming a less significant part of the electric grid power source—30% of the total U.S. electricity generation in 2017, down from 48% in 2008, as renewables (hydro, solar, and wind) have grown from 9% to 17% over that same period, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency—that means electric-powered equipment can be cleaner than gas-powered equipment. As climate change is reaching levels where we need to panic, as David Wallace-Wells asserts in his recent New York Times Op-Ed piece, it’s all about quitting fossil fuel consumption, period.

What does that mean for homeowners? The four appliances that typically use natural gas in many areas of the continent—heaters, hot water heaters, stoves, and clothing dryers—can instead be powered by electricity. Because we can rely on a cleaner electrical grid and solar panels, electrifying our home is one way to reduce our carbon footprint and help fight climate change.

There are additional reasons to stop burning natural gas in our homes. First: our health. When we light that gas stove, it’s not only emitting carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that causes global warming. In addition, it can emit carbon monoxide (CO)—a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas (this is why we have the building code requirement of CO monitors in all homes, on all levels of the house). While carbon monoxide is the worst offender, burning natural gas emits nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and formaldehyde (HCHO), both of which can exacerbate various respiratory and other health ailments, according to a 2014 article published in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Second, there’s the safety factor. According to Environmental Science and Technology, “incidents involving natural gas pipelines still cause an average of 17 fatalities and $133 M in property damage annually.” So while you’re not likely to die from a natural gas explosion, wouldn’t you rather not have that possibility in your house?

Third, natural gas leaks are the largest source of human-caused methane (CH4) emissions in the U.S. Methane is roughly 86 times more potent* than carbon dioxide as a heat-trapping greenhouse gas—so that’s a huge problem. But it’s not just near and around natural gas plants. Bruce Nilles of the Rocky Mountain Institute told us that the entire underground network of natural gas piping is leaking methane—and the older the pipes, the worse it is.

When I asked Bruce how we can stop this, given that we as homeowners can’t just dig up our gas piping, he gave me an excellent visual: think of the underground network of natural gas lines as a great big tree, and we are trimming it down, twig by twig. For each house that eliminates natural gas, the pipe can be capped off at the line by the house. Then, if everyone on the street does that, the entire branch can be trimmed. Then, the whole neighborhood, and so on. We keep doing that, and the tree is fully trimmed; the leaks stop. Brilliant.

Rocky Mountain Institute
Photo Credit: Rocky Mountain Institute

How to Set OKRs For Your House

Here's how OKRs would work for our home. Our larger aspirational objective is to reduce our household's carbon footprint to zero by 2022. That would mean driving electric cars, purchasing carbon offsets for our air travel, not burning any natural gas at our home, and most likely getting more solar panels (or purchasing 100% solar or wind through our utility, Xcel Energy). Overall, this sounds difficult and expensive—and do we want to get rid of our outdoor gas barbeque grill? 

For a more realistic objective, we need to set an attainable goal. (This is referred to as a "committed OKR" as opposed to an "aspirational OKR"—it's good to have both.) Our committed OKR stops burning natural gas inside our home (which leaves us our outdoor summer BBQ options). Here are our Key Results: 

  1. Switch our gas stove to the induction stove. We already have a two-burner induction stove and love it, so switching out the other gas burners will only happen when the gas stove breaks or replacing our butcher block kitchen countertop. This will be an expensive item, so we'll budget that for next year. Estimated completion: 6/30/20.
  2. Replace our backup gas boiler (for both heating and water heating, since we have a ground source heat pump and hydronic heating, which covers most of our heating needs) with an electric air-to-water heat pump. This will be a large cost item, so we will not do this until our boiler needs replacement. Estimated completion: TBD, but by 6/30/21.
  3. Replace the gas clothes dryer with a vent-less electric-powered clothes dryer. Again, this is a significant expense, so we won't replace it until our current one fails (which could be any day, since ours is ten years old and appliances don't seem to last as long as they used to). Estimated completion: TBD, no later than 6/30/22.

For outside the house, another thing to add that often people don't think about, especially in the winter: all of that gas-powered landscape equipment—lawn mowers, leaf blowers, hedge trimmers, etc. So I'm adding to the list to switch to an electric lawnmower. Estimated completion: this summer (which cannot come soon enough!).

Indeed, we can't manage what we don't measure. Once we start measuring things like energy and gas bills for our own homes, we need to know our objective. Is it to reduce utility bills by 10 percent year over year? Rise has a whole host of advice and low-cost tips on making your home more energy-efficient, including getting an energy audit.

But if it's to decarbonize your house, then efficiency is only part of the equation. A budget must be set to both become more efficient and replace existing gas-powered appliances. It's okay to sacrifice some efficiency to get off fossil fuels. That might be blasphemous to some, but weaning ourselves off fossil fuels is the highest priority. And we can use OKRs to help us along the journey.

Do you have any OKRs for your home? Please share them with Rise—we'd love to hear about them!

*Note: We use methane's warming potential over 20 years (GWP20), which is 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide (CO2). Using the conventional GWP100 (over 100 years) of 34 dramatically underestimates methane's impact. We believe policymakers should switch to GWP20 or even GWP10—which shows that methane is 130 times more powerful. For more information, see this article in Scientific American.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-10-16T16:52:42+0000

Article by:

Melissa Rappaport Schifman