This past year was another defining year for building decarbonization action across every real estate sector, from weatherizing rural single-family homes to electrifying city skyscrapers to retrofitting affordable multifamily housing. So, as we look ahead to 2023 and the transformation of the buildings sector that needs to take place at the pace and scale required to heed our planet’s urgent warnings, it’s worth taking stock of the top seven building decarbonization victories and breakthroughs of 2022.
1. US cities and states pass policies to get fossil fuels out of buildings.
The latest IPCC report highlighted building energy codes as the best regulatory tool to reduce emissions from both new and existing buildings and many states put this into action this year. This spring, the Washington State Building Code Council passed the country’s strongest commercial building electrification code. In November, the state’s code council made waves again by voting in favor of a residential code requiring new-home construction to install heat pumps for space and water heating starting in July 2023.
Massachusetts enacted a sweeping climate and energy bill to support its goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. The bill includes a pilot program that enables up to 10 municipalities to follow other cities in the move away fossil fuels in new construction projects and major renovations. Notably, The Boston City Council voted in favor of New England’s largest city joining the pilot.
Montgomery County, MD, passed an ambitious building decarbonization bill this month making it the first East Coast county to require all-electric space and water heating for almost all new buildings supercharging the use of highly efficient electric heat pumps and hot water systems starting in 2026.
California’s most recent budget invests $1.4 billion in multi-year funding for equitable building decarbonization. At the city level, Los Angeles will require new buildings to be all-electric after April 1 of next year thanks to leadership from frontline communities.
2. States and public health organizations declare gas appliances are health harming.
California became the first US state to commit to ending the sale of fossil fuel appliances — specifically, furnaces and water heaters — by 2030. RMI’s analysis conservatively estimates that retiring all the state’s fossil fuel furnaces and water heaters starting in 2030 would avert a cumulative total of 154 million metric tons of CO2 emissions by 2045, equal to the annual energy usage of over 19 million homes.
The American Public Health Association became the first US public health organization to declare gas cooking as a public health concern, following in the footsteps of medical organizations, most recently the American Medical Association.
Further supporting the case for getting gas out of our homes and buildings, a jaw-dropping study led by Stanford published in January showed that methane leaking from gas stoves in US homes has a climate impact on par with the CO2 emitted from 500,000 gas-powered cars.
Another study in California found gas stoves in homes are leaking cancer-causing benzene emissions, even when they’re turned off. And even the New York Times joined the induction cooking craze.
3. The Inflation Reduction Act passes a historic climate bill that could help transform the US building sector.
The passage of the historic Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) gave an unprecedented injection of over $50 billion into clean energy technologies and improvements that can lower energy bills for Americans. The IRA funding, coupled with the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, could reduce buildings sector climate pollution by anywhere from 33 to 100 million metric tons, getting the United States to between 10 and 30 percent of its 2030 goal to cut emissions in half. It’s the biggest investment by a government ever to help make our homes, workplaces, and schools healthier and safer; significantly reduce climate pollution; and prioritize delivery of benefits and new technologies to low-income and environmental justice communities.More info