Report: A Roadmap to Fossil-Free Homes

Newly published research shows the power of local building electrification policies, and outlines where they could have the greatest impact

Since Berkeley, California passed the first municipal ordinance requiring new construction to be all-electric in 2019, building electrification policies have become one of the most popular, important, and in some cases controversial steps local governments can take to protect climate, public health, and safety. With support from local advocates, there is a growing movement of cities, counties, and now states across the U.S. passing and pursuing building electrification policies. This momentum is catching in on – with similar efforts internationally gaining steam as well. These policies help communities achieve their climate goals and also protect their health and safety as new evidence comes forward on the impact of appliances like gas stoves on children’s health.

This report (a project by Lead Locally, Research Group, and SAFE Cities) explores the projected emissions impact of policies that limit gas hookups in new residential buildings at the county level across the country. Our findings show that targeted building electrification measures in specific metropolitan areas can have a large impact on reducing emissions from the nation’s future housing stock, and that most of the counties apprising these areas have a majority of residents who expect their local leaders to take more action on climate.

Here are a few of our top findings:

  1. The impact of new construction going all-electric is significant: Passing policies requiring electrification on all new residential construction nationally would eliminate almost 140 million metric tons of CO2 between 2023 and 2030. That’s the equivalent of stopping more than 156 billion pounds of coal from being burned or the equivalent of negating the emissions that 37.5 U.S. coal plants generate in a single year.
  2. Local building electrification policies in strategic areas can make an outsized difference: Due to the clustered nature of our cities and surrounding suburbs, a relatively small number of policies in specific regions would have an outsized impact on emission reductions. Remarkably, more than half (52%) of gas emissions from residential buildings constructed between 2023 and 2030 could be eliminated by passing policies in just 63 metropolitan areas and their surrounding counties. Narrowing further, twelve metropolitan areas will account for over 30% of estimated cumulative CO2 emissions and new housing stock between 2023 to 2030. Finally, just 14 states contain over 70% of projected emissions from new construction between 2023-2030.
  3. Time is of the essence —for climate, health, safety, and budgets: Every new building that is constructed with gas hook ups locks in cumulative fossil fuel emissions and health risks for years to come, until a costly retrofit can be done to make it all-electric.
  4. Residents in the counties we’ve identified want to see action from their local officials on climate: In nearly all target counties, a majority of residents have prioritized climate change as an urgent issue and expressed a desire for their local elected officials to do more to address global warming. Local elected officials should prioritize passing building electrification policies.
  5. Cities and counties in states that have preempted local authority over gas must take action: To date, nearly half of U.S. states have passed preemption laws which make it difficult or outright impossible for local jurisdictions to pass policies limiting gas hook ups in new construction. Concerningly, we found that many of the 63 metropolitan areas fall in preemption states, including 14 of the top 20. While lobbying of state governments by the gas industry severely curtails what communities can do to decarbonize their buildings, the projection of future emissions makes it clear that local policymakers in those states must still take action. In this report, we outline several alternative pathways that local governments in preemption states can explore to reduce emissions from their community’s buildings — while ultimately aiming to roll back those preemption laws.
  6. Policies targeting new construction alone aren’t sufficient: It’s clear that emissions from existing residential properties constitute a much larger share of building emissions than new construction. To adequately address this, we need to pass policies that help retrofit existing structures while also changing the way we build new housing. Money from the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 will make this easier than it’s ever been, and local governments have a vital role to play connecting homeowners, developers, landlords, and property managers with these funds.

Taken together, these findings outline a clear path forward for local elected officials and activists who want to take action to protect their communities and the climate from fossil fuel pollution in buildings. The journey to carbon-free buildings may be difficult — but smart, targeted, and creative actions at the local level can make our path significantly easier.