Building codes are long. They are wonky. They are dense. And they’re one of the most powerful tools policymakers can use to fight climate change, improve public health, and save households money.States and cities across the country are revamping these often arcane ordinances to limit the use of fossil fuels in homes and workplaces.
uilding codes are long. They are wonky. They are dense. And they’re one of the most powerful tools policymakers can use to fight climate change, improve public health, and save households money.
States and cities across the country are revamping these often arcane ordinances to limit the use of fossil fuels in homes and workplaces. It’s an essential shift, as gas-powered appliances like furnaces and water heaters are a key component of global warming but rarely at the forefront of solutions.
But most municipalities don’t have the resources to engage in the monthslong process of writing climate-aligned codes. That process can and should be easier.California provides the latest model. Its pioneering Building Energy Efficiency Standards, which the state energy commission adopted unanimously in August, incentivizes builders to go all electric and prioritizes heat-pump technology.
These highly efficient devices are essentially reversible air conditioners that warm buildings during the winter and cool them during the summer using electricity. Heat-pump water heaters, meanwhile, can heat water two to four times as efficiently as a gas unit.
Beyond the increased efficiency and built-in year-round comfort, all-electric buildings reduce carbon emissions, which is critical for meaningful climate action. The California Energy Commission estimates that the heat-pump measures in California’s new code will reduce the state’s carbon dioxide emissions by more than 30,000 metric tons per year.
Assuming every new building in the state adheres to this standard starting in 2023, that would create a cumulative reduction of 1.1 million metric tons of CO2 by 2030. Even with today’s mix of power plants, 99 percent of U.S. households that replace a gas furnace with a heat pump would see reduced emissions within the 15 to 20 year lifetime of the appliance, according to an analysis by RMI.