California has often led the country in misguided climate change policies—whether by relying too heavily on renewable energy (to the detriment of their energy security) or by pushing electric cars on its residents. Now they’ve launched the newest campaign against affordable living: updating building codes to reduce emissions.
Trying to reduce emissions produced by cooling, heating, and powering buildings is a laudable and important goal in the long term. But, as it did with its renewable energy policies, California is forcing aggressive climate policies through new building codes that will make the state even more expensive for residents, and which will particularly harm those who can least afford it.
This month, state regulators updated California’s building code to require new homes and commercial buildings to have solar panels and batteries and the wiring needed to switch from heaters that burn natural gas to heat pumps that run on electricity. Energy experts say it is one of the most sweeping single environmental updates to building codes ever attempted by a government agency.
But some energy and building experts warn that California may be taking on too much, too quickly and focusing on the wrong target — new buildings, rather than the much larger universe of existing structures. Their biggest fear is that these new requirements will drive up the state’s already high construction costs, putting new homes out of reach of middle- and lower-income families that cannot as easily afford the higher upfront costs of cleaner energy and heating equipment, which typically pays for itself over years through savings on monthly utility bills.
Adding solar panels and a battery to a new home can raise its cost by $20,000 or more. While that might not matter to somebody buying a million-dollar property, it could be a burden on a family borrowing a few hundred thousand dollars to buy a home.
As the Times notes, the new equipment eventually pays for itself by reducing monthly utility bills, but for many Californians, they can’t afford the extra upfront cost. Elsewhere in the article, they note that the median single-family home in California already costs more than double the nationwide average.
For those that are not millionaires in beachfront mansions, this new policy is going to exacerbate an already ongoing housing shortage in the state. Instead of finding ways to reduce prices and increase homeownership, this new building code will make houses even more unaffordable for California residents.
One California architect warns of the broad effects of this new code: “You’re going to see the impact in office rents. You’re going to see it in the cost of the milk in your grocery store… There’s no question this is going to impact prices across the board.”
California lawmakers have made it clear that they prioritize combating climate change in their state. But it shouldn’t come at such tremendous expense of their residents—particularly the poor and middle class. California is already hemorrhaging residents as people flee to states with more affordable costs of living and more reasonable policies.
If California lawmakers want to truly improve the lives of their constituents, they need to find ways to balance reducing emissions and combating climate change with making life more affordable.