Denver is already phasing out natural gas appliances for large commercial buildings – both new and old – but so far there is no similar movement for single-family homes and residences.
That’s not good enough, City Councilman Jolon Clark said. He asked to revive a conversation about how to phase out or prohibit gas appliances in new homes early next month.
City officials had considered that option for a building code update approved by the council earlier this month, but ultimately they never voted on it. Clark said the city should consider whether to ban space heaters, water heaters or all gas appliances, which he called “total electrification.” Yes, that would mean new homes and residences might no longer be allowed to have gas stoves.
Clark said city officials will also consider ways to phase out gas appliances as an alternative to an outright ban.
The time is right, said Clark who supports the total electrification option. Climate change is worsening across the world, Denver’s air quality remains poor and natural gas prices are on the rise.
“We’re right at that tipping point where this makes a lot of sense,” Clark said.
Denver’s efforts to phase out natural gas appliances in large commercial buildings stretch back years. But so far homes and single-family residences remain mostly untouched by building code updates on the topic.
A peer-reviewed study published last month thrust natural gas stoves specifically into the national spotlight after it explained that the appliances can be blamed for about 12.7% of childhood asthma cases across the country.
That’s comparable to the damage caused by second-hand smoke, Meera Fickling, a senior climate policy analyst for the nonprofit Western Resource Advocates.
Another study from the Colorado nonprofit RMI (formerly the Rocky Mountain Institute) showed that homes with gas stoves contain nitrogen dioxide concentrations at 40% to 400% higher than homes using electric stoves.
The revelation drove environmentalists to urge the banning of gas stoves while far-right voices like U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio, rushed to their defense, tweeting “God. Guns. Gas stoves.”
Clark is less concerned with the culture war aspect than he is with the minutiae of the proposal.
He asked city staff to bring the information they have to a council committee meeting on Feb. 6 where they’ll discuss the city’s options for reducing the use of natural gas.
No matter the appliance – space or water heaters or stoves – using natural gas inherently carries risks. Leaks can form in the pipelines and often homes aren’t ventilated well enough.
“There have long been safety and health concerns any time you’re combusting fuel inside a closed space,” Clark said. “That is dangerous in a way electrical appliances are not.”
The difference in cost for new homes to build with all-electrical systems rather than gas is now similar, Clark said. And the reduced emissions would benefit not only the residents of each home but also the environment as a whole.
Buildings stand as the fourth-largest source of greenhouse gasses in Colorado, behind transportation, electricity producers and the oil and gas industry, Fickling said. Across the state, residential buildings are likely the largest source within the category.
Should the city require new homes to have electric appliances instead of gas, Clark predicted a relatively small change for the construction industry. There aren’t as many homes built each year these days as there were, say, decades ago.
Denver saw a big decline in the number of building permits issued during the pandemic.
The far bigger change would come from pushing existing homes to phase out their gas appliances, Clark said. But that’s not yet on the horizon.
“That will be the absolute last piece to tackle,” he said. “We have not wrapped our arms around it.”
People who already own homes are shifting away from gas appliances on their own, Clark added. Part of that is thanks to local and federal rebate and incentive programs that can offer thousands of dollars for those looking to make the switch.
Council discussions about any new code changes will include stakeholders from every stripe, including representatives from energy providers, Clark said.
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