Fifty cities in California have either passed or are seriously considering implementing residential codes that ban the use of natural gas in new residential construction. In July, Berkeley became the first city to ban natural gas appliances in all new homes, unanimously passing the ordinance which goes into effect January 1, 2020. In the South Bay, Palo Alto and Mountain View are two of the early adopters of this order for electrification and it seems many others may soon follow.
California is the second largest consumer of natural gas and a quarter of its greenhouse gas emissions result from its use in buildings. This source is an obvious target for public officials who are making moves to considerably reduce the state’s reliance on this environmental unfriendly energy source. A secondary reason for concern is that during an earthquake, gas lines are susceptible to rupturing, causing explosions, fires and widespread harm.
This move toward mitigating our carbon footprint and zero-emission homes is nothing new. In 2013, President Obama initiated his Climate Action Plan and in 2018, then Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 1477 into law, which amended the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.
Though many people support California as a whole becoming more environmentally conscious, this ecological edict is gaining traction during a time when widespread public safety power shutoffs (PSPS) are leaving many people and businesses without power. A survey of 3,000 conducted by the California Building Industry Association (CBIA) discovered that 65% of homebuyers want to have natural gas appliances such as gas ranges, fireplaces, water heaters, furnaces and dryers. The reason? Concerns over the cost of electricity, which some estimate would triple by moving to an all-electric utility format. Two thirds of those polled disagreed with eliminating fossil fuels as an energy alternative, which CBIA concluded was that “natural gas is seen as cheaper and more energy-efficient, whereas electricity is seen as safer and more often viewed as a clean energy source.”
Californians for Balanced Energy Solutions, a “coalition of natural and renewable gas users whose members include families, small and large commercial businesses, industrial users, local governments and nonprofit organizations,” reported that if the state bans the use of fossil fuels, 90% of those who own homes or businesses and even those who rent will be impacted. According to CBES, “switching from gas to other types of appliances would cost the average California homeowner over $7,200 in up-front expenses. The ongoing costs would hurt homeowners and renters alike-increases energy costs by $388 each year.”
But as alternative energy sources like as wind, water and solar begin to power more and more of the state’s electrical grids, other officials and researchers predict that any initial upsurges in consumer’s monthly utility bills will eventually be offset by these more cost-effective energy generators.
Silicon Valley cities like San Jose, Mountain View and Palo Alto are leading the change by adopting plans for residential electrification. In Palo Alto, the move to ban natural gas in all new construction was passed in early November. The city is also exploring rebates for the retrofitting of existing homes. Like Berkeley, Mountain View voted unanimously to adopt what can only be called a hard-hitting 100% electrification policy that includes all new residential and commercial buildings. There are no exemptions for gas fireplaces, ranges or firepits in homes though restaurants may be able to obtain a waiver. More specifics on Mountain View’s REACH code can be found here.
Whatever your stance on this ecological push, expect it to hit your wallet. And for those looking to or who are in the process of undergoing major home remodels, odds are if your home has access to natural gas, you will have to make the switch and fully electrify your home. Be sure to get all the necessary details from your architect in advance to see if this is something that could affect your remodel or addition project.
We encourage you learn more about this “state of electrification” so you will be informed about the issue and how it could impact you personally as well as Silicon Valley and beyond.