Atmospheric zone signals are a decisive move towards zero-emission devices

Written by Melissa Yu

California prides itself on being a leader in climate action, with a commitment to reduce emissions in the coming decades and reach carbon neutrality by 2045. But recent studies suggest the state is far from achieving these goals, in part because emissions from buildings continue to go in the wrong direction—increasing 17.8 percent in the residential sector since 2014. Aviation agencies across the country have authority under the Clean Air Act to set zero-emission standards for devices, and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (Air Zone) is expected to become the first government body to set an appointment Absolutely requires that new devices be emission-free.

Our Air District has announced its intent to amend the existing residential furnace and water heater rules, 9-4 and 9-6. Existing rules already limit emissions of nitrogen oxide (or nitrogen oxides) from residential water heaters and furnaces, but current standards are not low enough to require fuel swaps (away from gas) and still allow pollution to continue, with effects on both indoor and outdoor air quality. On the other hand, NOx-free appliance standards will ensure the transition from polluting fossil fuel appliances to clean and healthy alternatives.

The emissions under review here, nitrogen oxides, are highly reactive toxic gases that are emitted when fuels are burned, such as when operating cars, trucks, power plants, and household appliances. Nitrogen oxides also react with the sun and the atmosphere to become harmful haze (ozone) and particulate matter (PM2.5).

Most household appliances in California run on gas and emit nitrogen oxides in and near our homes. In the Bay Area, appliances release nearly three times as many nitrogen oxides as passenger vehicles, and more than eight times as much nitrogen oxides as power plants. As a result of this device contamination, buildings in California are responsible for more than 1,500 premature deaths and more than $17 billion in health impact costs.

To address this major source of deadly pollution, the Air District proposes that all newly purchased water heaters and spaces be emission-free as of 2027, although implementation dates vary by device:

  • 2027 = All new home water heaters will be zero-emissions
  • 2029 = New home and commercial ovens will be zero emission
  • 2031 = New commercial water heaters will be zero emissions

These regulations apply to manufacturers, installers, retailers and resellers. They are “point of sale” regulations, which means that all appliances sold or installed in a nine-county area after the specified date must comply with zero emissions requirements. The rules will not require proactive modifications, but will only affect hardware replacement and new construction. All major gas appliances in our homes already have zero-emissions analogs on the market: heat pump water heaters, air source heat pumps, induction stoves, and electric dryers.

Regulating NOx in appliances will promote the electrification of new and existing buildings in a way that prioritizes the sanitation communities. Low-income communities are disproportionately affected because they are already located near sources of pollution such as power plants and major highways. Growing up in homes with devices that emit nitrogen oxides has been found to be a precursor to childhood asthma. Disposing of gas appliances reduces NOx pollution in these homes.

In making this move, the weather district is aligned with state policy and funding priorities: Governor Newsom recently set a goal of three million climate-ready, climate-friendly homes by 2030 and seven million by 2035, to be achieved through deployment. Six million heat pumps by 2030. At least half of the funding to achieve this policy goal will be directed towards disadvantaged communities.

There will likely be an Air District Council hearing on how the ruling will be adopted at the end of this year or early next year. If your organization would like to participate, you can become a participant in the official Air District Stakeholder Working Group. Additionally, as an individual, you can join a group of advocates for informal bi-monthly meetings to hear the latest updates on the rule-making process and comment on how you want to see the airspace move forward. To participate or learn more, email Melissa Yu at [email protected]

Melissa Yu is the branch’s chief energy campaigner.

%d bloggers like this: