Now more than ever, efforts should be made to electrify appliances, retrofit building envelopes, and ensure that indoor air is of the highest quality for all buildings, especially housing. The fossil fuel-fired appliances we use to heat and cool our homes or cook dinner release toxic chemicals into the air, harming physical health and indoor air quality. Further, these appliances release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, exacerbating the harmful effects of climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions and the effects of climate change are already harming the quality of the physical environment and our nation’s health, especially for members of low-income, marginalized communities. The time is now for the United States to address toxic sources of greenhouse gases that are polluting the air, contributing to climate change, and harming physical health by removing fossil fuel-fired appliances from buildings.
To make widespread electrification more feasible and accessible, states and local jurisdictions will need support. Importantly, many federal, state, and local efforts currently underway are making the electrification and weatherization of buildings, and specifically housing, more feasible and economical. This resource provides information to assist city and state officials seeking to achieve energy infrastructure upgrades through policy making.
On August 16, 2022, President Biden made history by signing the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA) into law.1 The IRA includes $369 billion slated for climate and energy projects, making it the largest clean energy investment in U.S. history.2 The IRA is estimated to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 31 to 44 percent by 2030.3
The IRA includes funding to incentivize installation of high-efficiency electric appliances, provide rebates for whole-home retrofits, improve the energy efficiency of affordable housing, distribute grants to marginalized communities for climate resilience activities, increase production of efficient heat pumps, and support states and jurisdictions in adopting updating building codes. The IRA also includes a variety of tax credits for residential and commercial buildings to install energy-efficient appliances and transition to clean energy.
IRA Appropriations for Energy Efficiency
|High Efficiency Electric Home Rebate (HEEHR) Program||4.5 billion|
|Home Energy Performance-Based, Whole-House (HOMES) Rebate Program||4.3 billion|
|Improving energy efficiency, water efficiency, or climate resilience of affordable housing||1 billion|
|Climate Justice Block Grants||3 billion|
|Defense Production Act||500 million|
|Efficient building codes||1 billion|
The IRA’s numerous appropriations for affordable housing efficiency, electric appliance installation, and climate and environmental justice are critical advancements to support a transition to a future that relies on clean and renewable energies. However, the IRA is not an entirely inclusive piece of legislation. The IRA perpetuates investments in the American fossil fuel and oil industries by expanding permits for fossil fuel extraction.4 These caveats show astounding disregard for the health, safety, and protection of fenceline communities and signal the urgency with which states and local jurisdictions will need to capitalize upon available funding opportunities to produce widespread, equitable electrification and decarbonization.
Luckily, in addition to the IRA, numerous other opportunities are coming down the pipeline—or rather the powerline—that will help the country power up high-efficiency, electric appliance production and installation, and increase efficiency to simultaneously reduce emissions and create healthy housing.
- Defense Production Act
The Defense Production Act(DPA)authorizes the President to prioritize domestic production of particular goods by instructing companies to allocate materials, restrict hoarding, and offer financial support to manufacturers.5 For example, the DPA was used in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to increase production of masks, ventilators, and expedite vaccine efforts.6 On June 6th, 2022, President Biden invoked his executive power under the DPA to order the Department of Energy (DOE) to increase domestic production of various clean energy technologies, including heat pumps.7 Heat pumps are a cleaner, more efficient method of heating and cooling than reliance on fossil-fuel-fired appliances.8 Families that install heat pumps can expect to save an estimated $500 to $1000 per year on utility bills.9 In addition to residential heat pump installation rebates, the IRA includes also $500 million for other activities pursuant to the DPA.
- Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants
The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) program provides financing for a variety of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and zero-emission projects. With $550 million from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, states, tribes, and local governments can apply EECBG funds towards activities that reduce fossil fuel emissions and energy use and improve energy efficiency, including but not limited to conducting residential and commercial building audits; establishing financial incentive programs for energy efficiency improvements; developing energy efficiency and conservation programs for buildings; developing building codes; and installing technologies to reduce greenhouse gases.10 Fossil fuel appliance replacement and all-electric building construction will significantly reduce carbon pollution and are therefore an excellent way for localities to use EECBG funds.
- State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds
In March 2021, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) appropriated $350 billion to State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF)11 SLFRF payments are awarded to states, territories, and tribal governments to mitigate the fiscal effects stemming from the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) public health emergency.12 In its final rule, the Department of the Treasury encouraged recipients to use SLFRF funds for affordable housing production, preservation, and weatherization.13 The guidance also states that SLFRF funds are generally available for affordable rental housing serving households at or below 65 percent of area median income for a period of 20 years or more.14 Thus, SLFRF funds are another resource jurisdictions can use to finance vital envelope upgrades and appliance installations.
- National Initiative to Advance Building Codes
The National Initiative to Advance Building Codes was introduced in June 2022 to accelerate the adoption of updated building codes throughout the country.15 Updated building codes ensure that today’s infrastructure adheres to the most modern, updated, and resilient construction methods to lower energy use, utilize more resilient building materials, and save households an average of $162 annually on utility bills.16 Yet only one-third of communities in the United States abide by the latest building codes.17 Thus, President Biden’s administration has committed to review federally funded activities to ensure that building projects, including housing, supported by the federal government follow updated building codes to the greatest extent possible. The administration will also be providing technical assistance to states and local communities seeking to adopt their own updated building codes.
This executive effort is a prime opportunity for states and jurisdictions to facilitate building electrification, whole-building retrofits, and increased efficiency. Inciting a national conversation around building codes will help streamline the process across the country, especially in local jurisdictions where state law may preempt more stringent building codes.
Fortunately, states and cities across the country are pursuing innovative solutions to the climate and public health crises in ways that align with the decarbonization and electrification of buildings, including through updated building codes and bans on fossil fuels. States like California, New York, Massachusetts, and Washington are implementing building efficiency standards, thermal energy production, and heat pump standards to increase the overall efficiency of their building portfolios. Within the last three years, a wave of states and local governments have even banned fossil fuel hookups entirely in new or existing construction (Figure 1.)18
The state of Minnesota is making progress to incentivize electrification and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In May of 2021, Minnesota passed the ECO Act which modernized the state’s Conservation Improvement Program.19 The Act consists of several reforms, including authorization for utilities to fuel switch (a term used by those in the clean energy field to mean electrify) and incentives for utilities to increase spending on energy efficiency improvements in low-income communities. Since 2013, the city of Minneapolis has required energy benchmarking for large commercial and city-owned buildings.20 These properties must report their energy consumption annually to the city. Minneapolis is aiming to achieve an 80 percent reduction in city-wide emissions by 2050.
Jurisdiction Action Description State Energy Conservation and Optimization (ECO) Act Includes a variety of energy conservation measures, including authorization of “fuel switching,” or electrification, for local utilities. Minneapolis Ordinance 47.190 Requires large commercial and city-owned buildings to annually report their energy consumption, in line with the city’s goals to achieve 80 percent emissions reductions by 2050.
The state of California has been especially forward-thinking in its efforts to decrease building emissions statewide. As of August 2022, a total of 59 cities or counties across the state have adopted building codes or ordinances that support phasing out fossil fuel-fired appliances.21 Most of these jurisdictions require that all new residential and commercial construction be all-electric. California’s statewide building code (Title 24) encourages installation of heat pumps, requires that new residential construction be “electric-ready” (meaning buildings are equipped with the proper electrical panels and wiring to support a switch from fossil fuel-fired appliances to electric appliances), increases solar storage standards, requires additional kitchen ventilation, and strengthens building envelope efficiency standards.22 Clean-burning, highly efficient, and dual heating and cooling heat pumps are now considered standard in California’s new construction.
Jurisdiction Action Description State Title 24 Statewide building code that encourages installation of heat pumps, requires that new residential construction be “electric-ready,” increases solar storage standards, requires additional kitchen ventilation, and strengthens building envelope efficiency standards.
- New York
In New York City, policymakers have adopted ambitious efforts to reduce emissions and spur the innovative deployment of clean energy. Since May of 2019, New York City is aiming to achieve 80 percent emissions reductions by 2050 and require that all buildings larger than 25,000 square feet meet specific emissions standards.23 In December of 2021, NYC banned gas hookups in new buildings under seven stories tall constructed after 2023.24 Buildings larger than seven stories cannot be constructed with gas hookups after 2026.
Jurisdiction Action Description City Local Law 97 Sets an 80 percent emissions reduction by 2050 goal and requires large buildings to meet specific reduction standards. City Local Law 154 Bans fossil fuel hookups in new buildings.
Massachusetts is another state proactively implementing policies to address climate change and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Since 2013, the city of Boston has required large residential and non-residential buildings to report their energy and water use data annually under the Building Emissions Reduction and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO).25 BERDO also established a carbon emission standard citywide to achieve net zero emissions in large buildings by 2050. BERDO includes a compliance fee for buildings that do not meet reduction goals which are pooled into an Equitable Emissions Investment Fund to “benefit Environmental Justice Populations and populations disproportionately affected by air pollution.”
Jurisdiction Action Description Boston BERDO Requires large buildings to report their water and energy use annually and sets an emission reduction goal of 0 emissions by 2050.
The state of Washington, including many of their local communities and housing authorities, is making strides to remove fossil fuels from residential and commercial buildings.26 In April of 2022, Washington state became the first state to incorporate building electrification mandates into its statewide energy code.27 The updated code requires electric heat pumps for space and water heating in new construction of commercial and multifamily buildings with four floors or more.28 In February 2021, the city of Seattle banned fossil fuel combustion and electric resistance space heating in new large commercial, multifamily, and municipal buildings. Seattle has also implemented a tax on heating oil sold in the city effective January 2023.29 Tax revenue will fund an incentive program for heat pump installation in low-income homes. This ordinance incentivizes electrification while ensuring that low-income communities are not overlooked.
Jurisdiction Action Description State Statewide energy code Requires electric heat pumps for space and water heating in new construction of commercial and multifamily buildings with four floors or more. Seattle Commercial building code Bans fossil fuel combustion and electric resistance space heating in new large commercial, multifamily, and municipal buildings. Seattle Heating Oil Tax Ordinance A tax on heating oil sold in the city effective January 2023, with tax revenue funding heat pump installation in low-income homes.
While the electrification and decarbonization of the entire buildings sector is critical to reduce emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change, our work at the Public Health Law Center takes a specific stance on public housing to ensure the safety and equitable access of public housing residents who are, by definition, low income and therefore more likely to be disproportionately impacted by poor indoor air quality and poor housing quality. The following are examples of methods by which public housing authorities nationwide are working to implement energy goals and replace fossil fuel-fired appliances.
- Energy Performance Contracts
Energy performance contracts (EPC) enable public housing authorities (PHA) to finance building upgrades and energy conservation measures.31 The contractor covers the upfront costs of building upgrades which are then paid back over time through energy cost savings.
- Pilot Projects
Various PHAs are piloting projects to explore the feasibility of electric appliance installation across their portfolios. For example, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) partnered with the New York Power Authority and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to manufacture a cold climate heat pump that can be installed in a window, similar to a window AC unit.32 The partnership is investing $70 million to develop and produce 30,000 heat pumps for NYCHA’s public housing. Alongside WE ACT for Environmental Justice, NYCHA has installed 10 induction stoves in one property to monitor their impacts on indoor air quality.33 Across the country in Seattle, the Seattle Housing Authority is participating in a similar demonstration project with Mitsubishi, testing the abilities of commercial heat pump water heaters to supply hot water needs throughout their housing units.34
Without question, U.S. policymakers and building managers are prioritizing the electrification and modernization of buildings. Fortunately, support for these initiatives is growing. Yet, in this drive to electrify the our building portfolio, we cannot overlook that marginalized communities are most impacted by air pollution produced by fossil fuel-fired appliances. Without immediate action, marginalized communities will continue to bear the biggest burdens caused by climate change. While national efforts to electrify are important, grassroots electrification efforts must occur in jurisdictions where conversations around climate change are less common if we are to ensure that all communities benefit from electrification, regardless of geographic location.
By Kayla Kirtz, Research Assistant
September 22, 2022
1 Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, H.R. 5376, 117th Cong. (2022),
2 John Coequyt & Sarah Ladislaw, Landmark Deal Resets US Climate and Clean Energy Goals, Lifts Prospects for Global Progress, Rocky Mountain Institute (Jul. 28, 2022),https://rmi.org/landmark-deal-resets-us-climate-and-clean-energy-goals-lifts-prospects-for-global-progress/ (last visited Sep. 1, 2022).
3 Bipartisan Policy Center, Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) Summary: Energy and Climate Provisions, (Aug. 4, 2022), https://bipartisanpolicy.org/blog/inflation-reduction-act-summary-energy-climate-provisions/
4 Patrick Bigger et al., Inflation Reduction Act: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly>, The Climate and Community Project (Aug. 2, 2022), https://www.climateandcommunity.org/_files/ugd/d6378b_f05b177ba6b142aaa50ca7111a91f08b.pdf?utm_source=substack&utm_medium=email
5 Anshu Siripurapu, What Is the Defense Production Act?,Council on Foreign Relations (Dec. 22, 2021), https://www.cfr.org/in-brief/what-defense-production-act.
7 Department of Energy, President Biden Invokes Defense Production Act to Accelerate Domestic Manufacturing of Clean Energy (Jun. 6, 2022), https://www.energy.gov/articles/president-biden-invokes-defense-production-act-accelerate-domestic-manufacturing-clean
8 Department of Energy, Heat Pump Systems, https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/heat-pump-systems (last visited Sep. 1, 2022).
9 David Smedick et al., The Inflation Reduction Act could Transform the US Buildings Sector, Rocky Mountain Institute (Aug. 31, 2022), https://rmi.org/the-inflation-reduction-act-could-transform-the-us-buildings-sector/.
10 Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program,https://www.energy.gov/bil/energy-efficiency-and-conservation-block-grant-program (last visited Aug. 19, 2022).
11 U.S. Department of the Treasury, Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/coronavirus/assistance-for-state-local-and-tribal-governments/state-and-local-fiscal-recovery-funds (last visited Aug. 19, 2022).
12 American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, Pub. L. No. 117-2, 135 Stat.
13 U.S. Department of the Treasury, Affordable Housing How-To Guide, (July 2022), https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/136/Affordable-Housing-How-To-Guide.pdf.
15 Press Release, White House, FACT SHEET: Biden-Harris Administration Launches Initiative to Modernize Building codes, Improve Climate Resilience, and Reduce Energy Costs (Jun. 1, 2022), https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/06/01/fact-sheet-biden-harris-administration-launches-initiative-to-modernize-building-codes-improve-climate-resilience-and-reduce-energy-costs/.
18 Tom DiChristopher, Gas Ban Monitor: East Cost policies advance; Pa. gas ban prohibition fails, S&P Global Market Intelligence (Aug. 2, 2022) https://www.spglobal.com/marketintelligence/en/news-insights/latest-news-headlines/gas-ban-monitor-east-coast-policies-advance-pa-gas-ban-prohibition-fails-71439034 (last visited Aug. 19, 2022).
19 Maddie Wazowicz, Minnesota Passes the ECO Act, a Modern and Expansive Update to its EE Framework, Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (May 26, 2021), https://www.mwalliance.org/blog/minnesota-passes-eco-act-modern-and-expansive-update-its-ee-framework.
20 Madison Johnston, The City of Minneapolis’ Progress Towards Energy Efficiency and Green Building, Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (Jun. 24, 2022), https://www.mwalliance.org/blog/city-minneapolis-progress-towards-energy-efficiency-and-green-building.
21 Kristiana Faddoul, California’s Cities Lead the Way on Pollution-Free Homes and Buildings, Sierra Club (Jul. 22, 2021), https://www.sierraclub.org/articles/2021/07/californias-cities-lead-way-pollution-free-homes-and-buildings?amp= (last visited Sep. 1, 2022).
22 State of California Energy Commission, 2022 Building Energy Efficiency Standards Summary (2022) https://www.energy.ca.gov/sites/default/files/2021-08/CEC_2022_EnergyCodeUpdateSummary_ADA.pdf.
23 New York, N.Y., Local Law No. 97 (2019).
24 New York, N.Y., Local Law No. 154 (2021).
25 Boston, Mass., Ordinances ch. 7, § 7-2.1 & 7-2.2 (2021).
26 Tom DiChristopher, Washington state to require electric heating in building code update, S&P Global Market Intelligence (Apr. 25, 2022) https://www.spglobal.com/marketintelligence/en/news-insights/latest-news-headlines/washington-state-to-require-electric-heating-in-building-code-update-69960737#:~:text=Seattle%20amended%20the%20state%20commercial,new%20multifamily%20buildings%20and%20hotels (last visited Aug. 19, 2022).
27 Seattle, Wash. Ordinance 126279 (2018).
28 Rachel Golden & Leah Louis-Prescott, How Local Governments and Communities Are Taking Action to Get Fossil Fuels out of Buildings, Rocky Mountain Institute (Sep.1, 2022), https://rmi.org/taking-action-to-get-fossil-fuels-out-of-buildings/ (last visited Aug. 19, 2022).
29 Seattle, Wash. Ordinance 126391 (2021).
30 Daniel Aldana Cohen et al., A Green New Deal for Public Housing (2021), Climate + Community Project, https://www.climateandcommunity.org/_files/ugd/d6378b_4ac05fb79e03497c8634141a8019f62c.pdf; Anna Rosofsky et al., Breathe Easy at Home: A Qualitative Evaluation of a Pediatric Asthma Intervention, 3:1-10 Global Qualitative Nursing Research (2016).
31 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Energy Performance Contracting, https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/public_indian_housing/programs/ph/phecc/eperformance.
32 Governor Kathy Hochul, Governor Hochul and Mayor Adams Announce $70 Million Initial Investment to Decarbonize NYCHA Buildings as Part of Clean Heat for All Challenge, New York State(Aug. 2, 2022), https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-hochul-and-mayor-adams-announce-70-million-initial-investment-decarbonize-nycha (last visited Sep. 1, 2022).
33 WE ACT for Environmental Justice, Out of Gas, In with Justice, https://www.weact.org/campaigns/out-of-gas/ (last visited Aug. 19, 2022).
34 Advanced Water Heating Initiative, CHPWH Project Spotlight, https://www.advancedwaterheatinginitiative.org/chpwh-project-spotlight (last visited Aug. 19, 2022).