In December 2020, Oakland passed an ordinance banning natural gas in all new buildings. Residences and businesses will need to electrify, meaning that they must switch their fossil-fueled appliances with ones that run on electricity. This move will help Oakland meet its climate goals—which includes eliminating natural gas in new and existing buildings by 2040—as part of its Equitable Climate Action Plan (ECAP).
The shift towards electrification is happening statewide. California’s Energy Code, commonly known as Title 24, establishes energy efficiency standards for newly constructed and existing buildings. One of the most stringent buildings codes in the U.S., Title 24 seeks to promote energy-saving construction practices, improve occupant comfort, and minimize environmental impact.
Reducing natural gas use, particularly in homes, has multiple benefits:
Financial: Capping natural gas saves money. Studies of multiple cities have shown that switching to all-electric power in newly constructed and retrofitted homes can generate savings over a 15-year timeframe. For example, contractors who do not run gas lines to new construction can save between $2,000-$5,000. Natural gas prices may also increase as cities enforce local bans, consumer use decreases, and solar technology is unable to offset natural gas with electricity.
Safety: Removing natural gas from homes eliminates the risk of fire and leaks at the meter or in pipes, both in general and—particularly in California— after an earthquake. Studies from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) estimate the methane leak rate in the U.S. oil and gas system to be about 2.3 percent, which could have major climate consequences.
Health: Eliminating natural gas improves indoor air quality and occupant health. Studies show that cooking with gas—especially in older kitchens and buildings with inadequate or outdated ventilation—increases the risk of asthma and respiratory illness in children. Children are more susceptible because they have increased levels of physical activity, higher breathing rates, a greater lung surface to body weight ratio, and still-developing respiratory and immune systems. Gas stoves also produce higher levels of nitrogen oxide—a toxic gas—which may worsen existing respiratory problems and cause learning and memory deficits.
Climate: Electrifying activities like heating and cooking can help combat climate change. A recent study of 53 California homes found that significant amounts of natural gas are emitted as unburned methane, a greenhouse gas, with an estimated 75 percent of the emissions occurring when household appliances are shut off.
Moving towards all-electric is a win-win. The EcoBlock project will electrify participating homes, enabling residents to reap these benefits at no additional cost.
Cover image: Pexels