San Francisco Bay Area regulators have banned the future sale of gas-powered heating appliances, such as furnaces and water heaters, to protect the region’s air quality. 

Starting in 2027, The Bay Area Air Quality Management District will require homeowners to replace any broken gas-powered heating units with heat pumps, devices that use an advanced form of technology similar to refrigerators and air conditioners to cool and heat a home at the same time. Regulators will also work with local governments in the area to ensure that permits for houses require the installation of electric heating appliances.

District officials estimated that this move could prevent smog-forming air pollutants and avert 15,000 asthma attacks and 85 premature deaths in the region due to better air quality. The measure will also contribute to cutting the state’s climate emissions, as home heating currently comprises 11% of the state’s fossil fuel emissions. 

In homes that are heated by fossil fuel furnaces and water heaters, numerous air pollutants from those appliances can seep out in the air inside and outside of the home. Many times, these gases don’t even have to be present in high volumes to do long-term damage to people’s health. Low levels of nitrogen oxides –– one of the air pollutants targeted in the rule –– can irritate asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lead to respiratory infections in children, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

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A Bay Area Clean Air Coalition analysis of national data showed that in California, people of color are exposed to 32% more indoor air pollution from appliances than their white counterparts. The review demonstrates that phasing out fossil fuels in the home can have positive impacts that go beyond reducing carbon emissions. The standard could also help bring cooling to households, almost half of which don’t have air conditioning – while temperatures in the state are rising.  

California is also helping to make heat pumps financially feasible for homeowners. While the upfront costs of installing a heat pump can top $10,000, subsidies available from the state of California, the federal government, and the Bay Area can help offset these costs to help people who might not otherwise be able to afford upgrading their gas appliances. 

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Additionally, different types of subsidies can be combined to cover the costs of heat pumps. Heat pumps also have long-term financial benefits which outweigh those of other traditional heating systems, such as the combined heating and cooling impact as well as the comparative cost of electricity versus gas which can result in savings. 

It is still unclear if the standard will be implemented in a way that hurts or helps low-income residents since high utility bills are already impacting Bay Area residents. Regulators will need to create specific guidelines on the program to ensure that this program does not burden low-income residents.  

“Bay Area policymakers must ensure that the transition away from fossil fuel appliances is part of the solution for more affordable, climate-resilient housing, and not part of the problem,” said Megan Leary, community engagement and policy manager at Emerald Cities San Francisco Bay Area.