Clean energy journalism for a cooler tomorrow

Bay Area officials vote to ditch new gas furnaces and water heaters

Starting in 2027, San Francisco Bay Area regulators will require appliances to have zero emissions of nitrogen oxides, a move that effectively bans gas.
By Maria Gallucci

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A gas flame can be seen behind the viewing window of a gas instantaneous water heater.
(Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/Getty Images)

The San Francisco Bay Area has become one of the largest U.S. districts to limit the use of gas-burning appliances in homes and buildings.

This week, the region’s air pollution regulators agreed to phase out gas-fueled furnaces and water heaters by requiring that new appliances have zero emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) starting in 2027. Nearly 90 percent of the area’s residential NOx emissions come from burning gas for space and water heating — contributing more of the smog-forming, health-harming pollutant than do passenger vehicles.

The 1.8 million water heaters and furnaces in the Bay Area significantly impact our air quality, resulting in dozens of early deaths and a wide range of health impacts, particularly in communities of color,” Philip Fine, executive officer of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, said on Wednesday.

This groundbreaking regulation will phase out the most polluting appliances in homes and businesses to protect Bay Area residents from the harmful air pollution they cause,” he added.

The district’s new rule amendments don’t require anyone to ditch or retrofit their existing appliances. Notably, the changes also don’t apply to gas cooking stoves — an appliance that has become a political lightning rod in recent months thanks to growing awareness about the health risks that burning fossil gas in the kitchen poses to children and adults. Regulators didn’t elaborate on their decision to exclude gas stoves, but the appliance isn’t the largest source of NOx in Bay Area homes.

About 100 U.S. cities and counties have adopted some type of ordinance to limit the use of fossil gas in buildings, and policymakers in many other districts are considering enacting similar measures. The regulations aim not only to reduce indoor air pollution but also to limit leaks of methane, a potent planet-warming gas that can escape from appliances even when they’re turned off.

In 2019, the city of Berkeley, California passed the nation’s first legislation banning gas hookups in new buildings, with San Francisco, New York City and other municipalities soon following suit. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has recently called for phasing out the sale of fossil fuel heating equipment in existing residential and commercial buildings statewide, and requiring new construction to be all-electric starting in 2025.

Last fall, the California Air Resources Board voted unanimously to develop new air-quality rules that would bar the sale of gas-fueled furnaces and water heaters after 2030 across the state. With its new amendments, the San Francisco district is already forging ahead.

The Bay Area, which is home to more than 7 million people, will begin phasing out installations of new NOx-emitting water heaters in single-family homes in 2027, furnaces in 2029 and multifamily and commercial water heaters in 2031. The compliance dates are meant to give time for zero-emitting equipment to become more available and affordable, the Air Quality Management District said in a March staff report.

Zero NOx space and water heating technologies currently exist, but they are limited in availability and can be expensive to install in existing buildings,” according to the report. Equipment availability is projected to increase, and costs are expected to decrease in the coming years.”

In the meantime, the Inflation Reduction Act is already helping offset the expense of replacing fossil-fueled appliances with electric versions through federal tax credits. Additional IRA rebates, loans and incentives are expected to flow soon through states, enabling more businesses, and low-income households in particular, to move away from gas.

Maria Gallucci is a senior reporter at Canary Media. She covers emerging clean energy technologies and efforts to electrify transportation and decarbonize heavy industry.