Building Decarbonization

Background on decarbonization

Decarbonization has been in the news lately [1].  That’s a general term which means, for instance, building houses using appliances that emit no local greenhouse gas or smog-forming pollutants.  Related terms include zero carbon, net-zero, or all-electric. It is a technology-neutral term that includes electric, solar, and geothermal technologies.

Los Angeles is considering decarbonization, partly because of climate change, but also because natural gas is causing local problems, e.g.:

  • 2015: Aliso Canyon methane storage field blowout, raising risk of shortages [2]
  • 2017: pipeline explosion further reduced methane supplies in Los Angeles [3]
  • 2017: The South Coast Air Quality Management District said meeting the 70ppb ozone standard will require advanced energy efficiency and zero-emission appliances [2]
  • 2019: pipeline still out of action, costing Californians an extra billion dollars so far [4]
  • 2017-2019: ozone levels over 70ppb limit, increasing risk of health problems [5]


In response to these problems, Mayor Garcetti recently said “we must redouble our efforts to reduce our dependence on natural gas, and take this opportunity to move to a carbon-free future based on energy efficiency and renewable sources of energy” [6].  He then set the following goals in his sustainability plan [7]:

  • 2021: new building decarbonization policy implemented
  • 2030: all new buildings will be net zero carbon
  • 2050: all buildings will be net zero carbon


LADWP has already released a study showing that 76 percent of new zero-emissions homes will save at least $15 per month on equipment and energy bills over the life of the equipment [8], and a study funded by the state found that zero-emissions construction is cost-effective [9].

The city has several options to encourage or require zero-emissions new buildings:

  • It could update the building code to encourage them (like Palo Alto, effective 2017 [10])
  • It could offer incentives (as Sacramento does [11])
  • It could ban new gas connections in low-rise homes (like Berkeley, effective 1/2020 [12, 13])
  • It could potentially levy a heating fuel tax (as Seattle is considering [14])


It could also decide to move quickly on low-rise buildings, as several cities have done.  For instance, it could implement pilot incentives by January 2020, and building code changes for low rise residential construction by January 2021.















[13] Berkeley city council presentation on gas phaseout,



Updated 12 Aug 2019; from

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