It's All About the Envelope: Prioritizing Envelope Upgrades for Electrification of Cold Climate Homes

Josh Quinnell, Dave Bohac, Lucas Phillips, Nick Cindrich, Eric Werling

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Building decarbonization via electrification on a clean grid is the most promising climate solution proposed to date for the building sector. In cold climate zones, building electrification will be driven in large part by moving from natural gas space heating to cold climate heat pumps (CCHPs). CCHPs are commercially available today, including economical cold climate air source heat pumps (ccASHPs). But there's one big problem - wide-scale adoption of ccASHPs will dramatically increase winter peak electricity demand, even with the highest efficiency ccASHP products. Furthermore, cold climate space heating loads will drive unprecedented electric system peaks during the lowest periods of renewable generation and are likely to overwhelm existing distribution systems. This scenario is avoidable by coupling electrification with building envelope upgrades to reduce peak heating loads. This paper presents a model, built from home energy audit and research data sets, that quantifies the above challenges. Results demonstrate how weatherization efforts coupled with additional high-performance envelope upgrade measures can prepare the building stock for electrification and show the benefit these measures can bring to future utility operations. Much of this envelope upgrade work is cost-effective, according to conservative cost-benefit testing and program successes to date, and is coupled with substantial non-energy benefits. However, persistent market barriers have made scaling of envelope retrofit work challenging for decades, suggesting additional policy support is required. Lessons learned from previous policy experience, combined with new technology and administrative support, create exciting potential for this decarbonization climate solution.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages160
StatePublished - 2022
Event2022 ACEEE Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings - Pacific Grove, California
Duration: 21 Aug 202226 Aug 2022


Conference2022 ACEEE Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings
CityPacific Grove, California

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/CP-5500-83217


  • air sealing
  • building
  • electrification
  • envelope
  • insulation
  • retrofit


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