Ann Arbor mayor installs new gas fireplace amid city’s push for home electrification

ANN ARBOR, MI — Ann Arbor’s mission to achieve carbon-neutrality by 2030 calls on residents to ditch gas appliances and electrify homes to move away from burning fossil fuels.

Home electrification — in tandem with a shift to renewable energy — is a key strategy of Ann Arbor’s A2Zero plan, and Mayor Christopher Taylor is a leading proponent of it and the city’s proposed 20-year tax to fund it.

But while the mayor has installed solar panels at his house and indicated he intends to replace his gas appliances with electric ones, city building permit records show he and his wife installed a new gas fireplace and a new gas line for it this year.

Elizabeth Nelson, one of his City Council colleagues, is now calling him out for it.

“This is a luxury that’s a very bizarre thing to indulge in if you really are making the claim that you’re trying your best to get off gas,” said Nelson, D-4th Ward.

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Taylor defended the decision, saying he and his wife wanted a real fireplace — not an electric one — and it’s his understanding a gas fireplace is 75% more carbon-efficient than burning wood, citing the Sierra Club as a source.

“An electric fireplace isn’t really a fireplace,” he said of his reasons for not considering that option.

Taylor purchased a newly remodeled, 2,280-square-foot home in the Burns Park neighborhood for $1.2 million in July 2021, city records show. He has since installed a solar array that has provided 117% of his electricity needs since March, he said.

Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor poses outside his home which features a 7.2 kilowatt, 18-panel solar array in Ann Arbor on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022.Jacob Hamilton | MLive.com

Taylor said the remodeled house he purchased is basically a brand-new house and came with new gas appliances, including a gas stove, water heater and furnace, but he had the option to put in an electric dryer and did so. While that’s been the extent of his electrification work so far, it’s his plan to eventually replace the gas appliances, he said in an interview last week about what he’s doing to personally meet the city’s A2Zero goals, not mentioning he installed a gas fireplace.

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Taylor has since clarified he’ll probably keep the gas fireplace while just replacing the other gas appliances. He also said the new gas line he had installed was just a connection from his existing gas line through the house to the new fireplace.

Council Member Jen Eyer, D-4th Ward, said she’s working to fully electrify her house while renovating it and has installed two electric fireplaces. They’re wonderful and provide year-round ambiance, as well as heat when desired, she said.

Ann Arbor City Council Member Jen Eyer

Ann Arbor City Council Member Jen Eyer, D-4th Ward, poses at her home where she recently installed electric fireplaces on Oct. 21, 2022.Ryan Sun | [email protected]

While installing a gas fireplace in her family room would have been easier and cheaper since there already was a gas line and chimney, Eyer said she went electric to align with A2Zero goals, but she’s not commenting on anyone else’s personal choices.

Nelson, who said she has a real wood fireplace that she doesn’t use often, said she appreciates people are at different stages of moving toward the city’s A2Zero goals. For instance, when it comes to the goal of reducing driving, she’s lucky to live next to her workplace so she can walk, and her husband now works from home, she said.

“I think we all have different lifestyles,” Nelson said. “The circumstances that you’re in are going to dictate how hard or easy any of these choices are.”

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As far as home electrification, Nelson said she took a first step when she put an addition on her house during the pandemic. She had the choice of installing either an electric or gas dryer and opted for electric, she said, even though her contractor questioned that, noting the electricity still comes from the DTE Energy grid, which involves burning fossil fuels.

“They were puzzled at us making that decision, but we made that decision because we know we need to be electric,” she said.

Nelson still thinks the mayor’s intentional move toward gas with a new gas fireplace is questionable.

“It’s hard to make claims and do something different,” she said. “People make different decisions based on needs that they have. I don’t think a fireplace is a need.”

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