California Passes Nation’s First Building Code that Establishes Pollution-free Electric Heat Pumps as Baseline Technology
The California Energy Commission (CEC) voted today to approve the first building code in the nation to include highly efficient electric heat pumps as a baseline technology — the latest step by the state of California to transition new homes and buildings off of fossil fuels like gas in favor of electric appliances that can run on 100% clean energy.
Once the code goes into effect in January 2023, most new homes and buildings statewide will either need to be equipped with at least one highly-efficient heat pump for either space heating or water heating, or face higher energy efficiency requirements — a move that will deliver considerable climate and air quality benefits. The new code also sets stronger ventilation standards for gas stoves, after the California Air Resources Board found last year that they were a major health risk.
Experts estimate that the requirements for electric appliances in the code will prompt a substantial number of builders to forgo gas in new construction altogether — which should result in most homes built after Jan. 1, 2023 being gas-free. Many builders across the state are already choosing to build without gas for economic considerations alone — a trend that the code will accelerate.
“At National Core, we are already choosing to build pollution-free, all-electric affordable housing because we have found that it’s the best economic decision for us, both in terms of building costs, and long-term operational costs,” said Tim Kohut, director of sustainable design at National Community Renaissance (National CORE), the nation’s fourth largest affordable housing developer. “We expect that California’s new building code will prompt other builders and affordable housing developers to take the same route, delivering substantial savings.”
By increasing the use of heat pumps — which provide both heating and cooling while using between 50% to 70% less energy compared with other technologies — advocates also say that the code will also increase resilience in the face of climate-fueled heat waves, while reducing the strain imposed on the grid by inefficient air conditioning systems.
“The devastating climate report this week from the United Nations underscores just how high the stakes are for Californians. We’re in the crosshairs of the climate crisis. California’s new building code sets a striking precedent and takes us in the right direction by prioritizing electric appliances over gas, but this is an initial step. Next we need to go all in: the state should dedicate substantial public investment to rapidly transition existing buildings off gas, so all Californians benefit from healthy all-electric homes.” said Matt Vespa, senior attorney on Earthjustice’s Right to Zero Campaign.
The code’s approval comes on the heels of the release of California Energy Commission’s Building Decarbonization Assessment, which found that the electrification of both new and existing buildings must play a critical role in the most affordable pathway to meeting our climate targets.
“A shift to all-electric buildings will allow California to boost its reliance on clean electricity coming from wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources,” said Anne Perkins, senior manager of state/local government relations at Adobe, which recently opened the first all-electric office tower in Silicon Valley. “We hope other companies and industries will take our lead to tackle the climate crisis by moving the state toward all-electric buildings and building a net-zero emissions future.”
The following experts released statements in response to the proposed code:
“At National Core, we are already choosing to build pollution-free, all-electric affordable housing because we have found that it’s the best economic decision for us, both in terms of building costs, and long-term operational costs. We expect that California’s new building code will prompt other builders and affordable housing developers to take the same route, delivering substantial savings.” – Tim Kohut, director of sustainable design, National Community Renaissance (National CORE), the nation’s 4th largest affordable housing developer
“Efficient, electric heat pumps are a commonsense solution for cutting climate and air pollution from our buildings and keeping residents comfortable year-round. We celebrate the adoption of the updated building code, while also calling on policymakers in California to continue to phase out fossil gas in the building sector and invest in an all-electric future.” – Denise Grab, manager of RMI’s Carbon-Free Buildings team
“Gas appliances are a major source of air pollution in homes, and children with growing lungs are especially vulnerable to the health impacts. We don’t need to live with the increased risk of asthma and other respiratory diseases. It’s time to transition all California homes towards healthier electric appliances, and California’s building code is a step in the right direction.” – Christine James, MD, MSc, member, Climate Health Now
“California’s building code is a landmark step in the transition to pollution-free homes and buildings. Building all-electric homes that can run on 100% clean energy is more affordable, improves air quality in homes, and lowers building costs — it should be the standard statewide. We look forward to making clean technologies more accessible to Californians that will keep them safe from extreme heat, doing more to prioritize the most vulnerable communities in this process, and centering equity in this transition.” – Jose Torres, California director, Building Decarbonization Coalition
“The latest report from international climate scientists makes it clear that we must stop building new fossil fuel infrastructure immediately. California’s building code provides a model to the world for how to build homes and other buildings that can be powered by renewable energy while also saving on construction and energy costs.” – Pierre Delforge, senior scientist, Natural Resources Defense Council
“The Sierra Club applauds the CEC's adoption of the 2022 Title 24 Energy Code. California’s 2022 building code will create strong incentives for all-electric new construction that will protect the health of the people who live and work in those buildings, reduce the time and costs it takes to create and operate a new building, and puts California closer to hitting its climate targets. This policy is nothing short of groundbreaking; it creates and validates a compelling building electrification model for states across the country to embrace as they look for ways to meet the needs of the new clean, green, economy. As California goes, so does the nation — I think we are going to be seeing lots of all-electric buildings very soon.” – Matthew Gough, senior campaign representative, Sierra Club’s My Generation Campaign
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