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April 13, 2022 Other Voices

Opinion: Bill banning fossil fuels as primary source of heating, cooling new homes will hurt housing affordability

CNN

There are few today who would argue that climate change is not happening all around us. 

And it is generally accepted that we, as a society, must make changes that lead to a more sustainable future. 

No one expects the transition to be painless, but neither should we arbitrarily make this evolution more painful than it needs to be. 

Yet, that is exactly what a proposed bill in the General Assembly — Senate Bill 292, An Act Concerning Heating Efficiency in New Residential Construction and Major Alterations of Residential Buildings — would do.  

During a recent marathon public hearing, members of the Housing Committee heard from numerous stakeholders, including homebuilders and representatives of the energy sector, who are concerned about the unintended consequences of SB 292, which would ban the use of fossil fuels as the primary source of heating and cooling in new residential construction, and prescribe heat pumps or costly geothermal technology instead.  

While the goal of SB 292 is well-intentioned — reducing greenhouse gas emissions from housing — using heavy-handed, costly mandates as a means of achieving it are ill-conceived and ill-timed.

Why?

Start with Connecticut’s housing affordability crisis.  

Construction costs associated with SB 292 will be substantial and consequential, disproportionately affecting first-time homebuyers, minorities and single-parent households seeking to build the generational wealth that homeownership can provide and which many of us take for granted.  

In its annual update on affordability, the National Association of Homebuilders estimates that in 2022, a $1,000 increase in the median price of a home will price 117,932 households out of the market. 

Eric Santini Jr. 

With that said, a recent study conducted by Home Innovation Research Labs concluded that cold climate heat pumps (which would be needed to contend with our winters) are on average $8,000 to $9,000 more expensive compared to a gas furnace. 

In addition, a larger capacity heat pump water heater (80 gallon) with a mixing valve is needed to match the performance of a gas water heater in cold climates. These heat pump water heaters can cost as much as $2,800 more compared to a standard gas water heater. 

While the need for housing has arguably never been greater in Connecticut, production of new housing in the state is among the lowest in the country — and it’s been that way for a long time. 

Despite a modest uptick in 2020, housing production is trending in the wrong direction. 

According to the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), which tracks housing production numbers, Connecticut builders pulled 1,100 fewer new construction permits in 2021 than they did in 2020. 

This lack of sufficient production has, in large part, contributed to the housing scarcity, which has led to the housing affordability and accessibility issues we are experiencing today.

We often hear that 20% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States is attributable to residential buildings, but that statistic is misleading.

Newly-constructed homes built to today’s strict and progressive building codes are 70% more efficient than existing residential homes. 

From an environmental perspective, policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting energy efficiency in the state’s aging housing stock — among the oldest in the country — would be far more effective. 

Mandating electrification of heating and hot water systems on new construction will accomplish little to impact our housing stock’s impact on our climate.  

Rather than imposing harsh, costly mandates on homebuilders and pricing new homebuyers out of the market, Connecticut should be seeking remedies that provide the biggest bang for the buck. 

A pragmatic approach that includes policymakers working with homebuilders, energy and housing advocates, and environmentalists to develop robust incentives and education-based approaches aimed at changing consumer behaviors could result in Connecticut becoming a beacon for a sustainable climate change policy that protects consumers and fosters economic growth.

Eric Santini Jr. is the president and chairman of the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Connecticut and a principal of Santini Homes/Deer Valley Townhomes.

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