California adopts new building code to phase out gas

Mission District, San Francisco, California. Photo by Piermario Eva on Unsplash

The state passed the nation’s first building code that establishes electric heat pumps as baseline technology; leads transition off of fossil fuels in new homes

The California Energy Commission voted on Wednesday to approve a new building code that will drive up energy efficiency in the state by requiring that new homes and buildings be equipped with at least one heat pump for space heating or water heating. Non-compliance will mean that the buildings will face higher energy efficiency requirements.

This is the first building code in the nation to include electric heat pumps as a baseline technology and is 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.  

The new code includes requirements for builders to design single-family homes so battery storage can be easily added to the already existing solar system in the future and 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.  

“With the dire warnings by the world’s scientists about climate change as background, today’s vote is another historic first-in-the-nation move by California to literally build a cleaner energy future,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar and Storage Association.

“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 percent 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 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.”

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“Efficient, electric heat pumps are a common-sense 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,” said Denise Grab, manager of RMI’s Carbon-Free Buildings team.

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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