Recently a US Consumer Product Safety commissioner spoke about the risks associated with gas stoves. The USCPSC noted that gas stoves are linked to asthma and respiratory conditions. Ars Technica had a piece a few months ago discussing these risks in more detail (and more specificity about which installations are most at risk and how to mitigate them). But this leads into a larger conversation that every community needs to be having. Natural gas must be phased out. Given the harms to human health and the climate damage it causes, even the “cleanest” fossil fuel has no long term future. Furthermore, natural gas requires construction of extensive pipelines, storage and processing facilities which impact communities of color, such as the new proposed facility in Chester. Electric appliances have come a long way in the past several decades with heat pump HVAC and water heaters and induction stoves improved from early models. The future we must build is one with electric appliances supplied by zero carbon electric sources (wind, solar, geothermal and likely some day fusion).
The problem is that it’s hard to retrofit houses to turn gas installations into electric ones. When we replaced our HVAC several years ago, it was cost prohibitive to switch to electric. Once houses are built with natural gas systems, they are likely to keep them for at least decades. Garden City began to be developed about a century ago and those houses are still around. Many have been retrofitted at least once since then – the earliest houses likely switched from more hazardous coal and wood to natural gas or fuel oil at some point. This kind of energy transition we need has already happened before, the chart here shows heating energy use from US Census data.
If we want to build the future that’s needed, we have to start…decades ago. But late is better than never. In 2020, San Francisco passed an ordinance requiring all-electric houses (other California cities have followed suit, including LA last month). San Francisco has a FAQ about the ordinance here. California as a whole is also moving this direction too, as is New York. Because of the health and climate reasons driving it, this must be the consensus in the future. Ordinances requiring new construction use only electricity are an important and cost-effective first step. Municipalities in this area should already be considering following San Francisco’s lead.
Some places are taking it even further. Tokyo recently mandated all large housing development projects, starting in 2025, install solar panels. I expect we’ll be seeing more of these trends because modifying new construction is a much cheaper and easier way to mitigate climate damage than changing existing structures.