Ditching fossil-gas furnaces and water heaters isn’t just good for the climate. Research shows it’s a smart move for human health.
Later this month, the California Air Resources Board is expected to vote on proposed air-quality standards that would bar the sale of gas-fueled furnaces and water heaters in the state after 2030. If approved, it would be the first zero-emissions target for building heating systems from a state air regulator in the U.S.
This new ban would join a range of California policies encouraging the shift from gas to electric heating and appliances, from last year’s passage of electric-friendly building codes to this month’s decision ending utility subsidies for extending gas pipelines to new buildings. It would also dovetail with the various types of gas bans passed by more than 60 city and county governments across the state.
Indoor fossil fuel use accounts for roughly 12 percent of total U.S. carbon emissions, making it an important target for efforts to combat climate change. But CARB’s proposal, which is part of a much broader plan to move the state toward compliance with federal Clean Air Act standards, isn’t primarily justified by the goal of reducing carbon emissions. Instead, it’s intended to reduce the nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions that contribute to smog-forming and health-harming ozone and particulate air pollution.
A growing body of scientific evidence shows that emissions from burning gas to heat buildings, cook food and dry clothes are a far more significant source of NOx emissions than previously realized. Beyond being a precursor to the formation of smog, NOx can be a significant cause and exacerbator of asthma, heart disease and other health problems on its own.
“More than half of all Californians live in areas with unsafe levels of ozone pollution,” as do 99 percent of all disadvantaged communities in the state, said Denise Grab, a principal on the Carbon-Free Building team of nonprofit decarbonization think tank RMI. (Canary Media is an independent affiliate of RMI.) This map shows how much of California remains in “nonattainment” status for ozone pollution under U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations, which means they exceed the limits set forth in one or more of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
Air regulators in California’s San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles Basin areas project significant health improvements from the zero-emissions heating regulations they’re developing, which could expand on CARB’s statewide regulations. Heat pumps can both heat and cool more efficiently than air conditioners or gas-fired or electric resistance heaters alone, lowering energy bills in the long run. And incentivizing heat pumps in the roughly 3.4 million California homes that lack central air conditioning could provide cost-efficient cooling during the state’s increasingly dangerous heat waves, according to the report from RMI, the Sierra Club and the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association.