In early December, L.A. became the 69th and largest city in the state to require all new buildings to be all-electric. That’ll be the law of the land for new construction come end of January, according to the ordinance (there are exceptions for emergency equipment and commercial cooking).
From their materials to gas hookups, existing buildings make up more than 40% of L.A.’s greenhouse gas emissions. That’s why the city wants to make sure new buildings don’t add to that footprint.
“If we want to reach our goals around climate change, we’re going to really have to look critically at how we can reduce the emissions being produced by buildings,” said Ben Stapleton, executive director of the non-profit US Green Building Council Los Angeles. “So when we look at our homes, think about the things that are using gas.”
- Stoves and cooktops
- Hot water heating
- Furnaces and heaters
- Clothes dryers
- Fireplaces and outdoor fire pits
Stapleton said that means new buildings will have:
- Induction cooktops instead of gas stoves
- Heat pumps instead of traditional heat and air conditioning units
- No fireplaces or outdoor fire pits that burn gas
“The goal is that as the grid becomes cleaner over time — we have commitments on a state level to have 100% renewable energy by 2045 — if we shift more of our energy usage to the grid, that should also make our energy usage cleaner over time,” Stapleton said.
And from sleek induction cooktops to energy-efficient heat pumps, the all-electric future aims to be more energy-efficient as a whole.
“The reality is that energy conservation or energy efficiency, as un-fun and not-sexy as it sounds, is actually a really important part of electrification,” said Stapleton. “We get asked this question all the time of: How is the grid going to handle that? The grid is being designed to handle all these things long-term. We need to make sure that while we make this transition, our homes are also resilient in the face of those challenges.”
A bigger challenge in the transition — and higher costs — will be in retrofitting the existing buildings that account for 40% of the city’s emissions in the first place. L.A. is expected to finalize rules for that in 2023.
The state estimates it’ll need to at least double the amount of electricity it generates to support more electric vehicles, electric appliances and other efforts to get off fossil fuels. In addition to other renewable sources, the state will need to quadruple its solar and wind power, which means — in just the next 13 years — efforts to build large-scale solar and battery storage will need to speed up by a whopping 700%.
Saving Developers’ Costs
While retrofitting buildings can be more expensive, building all-electric from scratch tends to be the same cost or cheaper than existing building costs, said Tim Kohut, director of sustainable design at National Community Renaissance (National CORE), a regional affordable housing developer.
“It’s cost-neutral or cost-negative for the informed homeowner or developer,” Kohut said.
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National CORE are currently building 10 all-electric affordable housing projects in Southern California, with at least 2000 units in construction. Kohut said the up-front cost is the same or less than what the organization has spent on building gas-fueled buildings, and they expect to save even more on the costs in the long-run when paired with rooftop or community solar.
“There’s an environmental imperative to this, but for us, we’re trying to be relentless in driving down the cost to develop, build and operate affordable housing,” Kohut said. “This is a better solution and it’s equal to the cost of natural gas or it’s saving us money.”
Not only that, but some residents said it also saves money. I visited one of their all-electric, solar-powered affordable housing developments in Rancho Cucamonga, where, a resident shouted down to me: “want to know how much I pay for electricity? Nothing!”
“The amount of avoided utility costs for homeowners or property owners is really going to start to cause an awakening,” Kohut said. “And more and more people are going to find out that this is precisely the thing that we should be doing for economic reasons, not just because climate change is real.”
Challenges For the Building Industry
DeAndre Valencia, vice president of the Building Industry Association of Southern California, said the patchwork of electrification laws in different cities and counties is a headache for the industry… and that local governments should stick with the pace of the state.
“We believe through our negotiations with the state that, you know, in 2026, we’ll probably be at 100% electrification,” Valencia said. “So why speed up the cart when we’re not fully prepared?”
Valencia said California’s new building code goes into effect in January, which requires electric heat pumps in new construction. Valencia said this will make most new construction gas-free, without the hard line of 100% electric — and the requirements don’t factor in supply chain issues and grid reliability questions.
He also said the industry was concerned about training a workforce to install newer technologies like heat pumps.
“We need that time to train individuals and right now, there’s a shortage on workers,” he said. “It’s very hard to find qualified, whether they be union or non-unionized workers, to get out there and do the job.”
“We believe in decarbonization,” Valencia added. “However, we are opposed to 100% electrification. It’s all about getting there in phases.”