Current Plan to Replace to Replace with Heat Pumps in New Builds
In the push to decarbonize the built environment at all levels, multiple states, and even the federal government, have been pushing for the removal of natural gas from buildings. This push has been most keenly felt in the residential sector, where gas stoves and natural gas heaters have come under fire via legislation, and the most recent plan set out by the California state government aims to continue putting on the pressure.
The plan, voted on by state regulators September 23, would ban the sale of commercial and residential natural gas-heaters by 2030. Following the 2030 deadline, the plan would then be to implement more efficient heat pump technologies, which have recently gained widespread attention thanks to the new climate bill, in all new construction moving forward.
While widely used in Europe, heat pumps have long been under-utilized in the United States, with only about 11% of all homes in the United States using heat pump technology to heat and cool their homes.
This decision comes as part of a wider push to meet California’s more aggressive climate goals, which includes reducing ozone emissions from a variety of industries. As of right now, the state plans to become carbon-neutral by 2045 and produce 90% of its electricity from clean sources by 2035
Could California be the First to Eliminate Gas from Homes?
States like California and New York have been particularly strict as it relates to removing all traces of fossil fuels from their buildings. Back in 2019 city of Los Angeles placed a ban on gas stoves in all new constructions by 2023 and more recently, New York City has placed a ban on all natural gas stoves in new construction targeting that same year.
According to the California Air Resources Board, while natural gas alone makes residential and commercial buildings responsible for 5% of statewide carbon emissions, 90% of all building-related natural gas demand comes from space and water heating. By banning the sales of natural gas heaters, this would inevitably result in retrofits of newer heating technologies across the board in addition to it being included in new buildings.
The concern, many experts have thrown up, is that retrofits can be far more expensive than newer builds and put more of the burden on the homeowner. For example, a project retrofitting a heat pump system onto an already built home, which includes adding in the necessary ductwork, can run within the $30,000 range before rebates.
The state is attempting to get ahead of this by offering rebates (up to $4885) in tandem with federal incentives set up by the Inflation Reduction Act, but for many, the cost of pursuing a retrofit project may still prove to be too much. That being said, it’s likely the cheaper costs will still prompt many to make the switch sooner rather than later and risk engaging in a time-consuming retrofit, all while heat and hot water remain absent in the home.
For now, the the biggest challenge the California board has apparently run into is finding contractors that are familiar with installing heat pumps. According to a report prepared for the California Public Utilities Commission this year, only 5% of architects in California are aware of the technology, setting up plenty of demand for professionals accustomed to dealing with the newer technology.