From 2026, newly constructed buildings will have to go for induction stoves and heat pumps that run on electricity, following environmental and health concerns noted by recent studies.
- The state of New York on Tuesday (May 2) passed its budget, which included a first-of-its-kind provision banning natural gas stoves and furnaces in the construction of new buildings in the state from 2026 onwards. Governor Kathy Hochul termed the policy as one that the country will eventually go towards, while assuring people that it would not affect existing buildings.
- “I want to be very clear. I know people love to misinterpret this, but people with existing gas stoves, you’re welcome to keep them,” adding they wanted to ensure it was not “a bumpy road to the transition.” Her emphasis also came as the suggestions for similar policies have sharply divided US politicians, mostly among party lines.
- From 2026, newly constructed buildings will have to go for induction stoves and heat pumps that run on electricity. Installation of fossil-fuel equipment in new buildings, for structures of seven stories or less, will not be allowed. The ban for larger buildings starts in 2029. There are exemptions though, like for commercial food establishments. Currently, around 30 to 40 per cent of households in the US still use gas stoves.
What is the reasoning behind outlawing gas stoves?
- Natural gas, extracted from the earth, powers appliances like stoves and furnaces. But experts have pointed to two main areas of concern with the use of such appliances – environment and health.
- Natural gas is mainly methane, which is a greenhouse gas – capable of trapping significant amounts of heat in the atmosphere. As the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) notes, natural gas is a relatively clean burning fossil fuel, resulting in fewer emissions of nearly all types of air pollutants and CO2 when compared with burning coal or petroleum products to produce an equal amount of energy.
- But there are also drawbacks in its usage. The EIA estimates that in 2021, US carbon dioxide emissions from natural gas combustion for energy made up about 34 per cent of total US energy-related CO2 emissions. Extraction of natural gas from the ground also involves release of certain greenhouse gases.
- Therefore, for New York’s Democratic lawmakers use of appliances that run on natural gas was seen as a hurdle in meeting the state’s long-term emissions goals. The state is aiming for a 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and an 85 per cent reduction by 2050, compared to 1990 levels.
- Sometimes, extraction of the gas also includes fracking, a method where high-pressure fluids or water is used to dent and make a crack through rocks, underneath which the gas is trapped. This has been criticised for leading to water waste and leaving geological structures vulnerable.
- In terms of health impact, it has been known for years that certain gases released in burning of natural gases are harmful for health. But specific, household level insights on the harms of using stoves have become known more recently.
- For instance, one study from last year, titled ‘Home is Where the Pipeline Ends: Characterization of Volatile Organic Compounds Present in Natural Gas at the Point of the Residential End User’ by researchers at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, sent alarm bells ringing. It found that natural gas used in homes throughout the Greater Boston area, the focus of the study, contained varying levels of volatile organic chemicals, which are known to be toxic when leaked. These compounds are linked to causing cancerand also have the potential to form other health-damaging pollutants. At least 21 different hazardous air pollutants, as defined by the US Environment Protection Authority (EPA), including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene, and hexane were found.
- “This study shows that gas appliances like stoves and ovens can be a source of hazardous chemicals in our homes even when we’re not using them. These same chemicals are also likely to be present in leaking gas distribution systems in cities and up the supply chain,” said Jonathan Buonocore, co-author and Research Scientist at Harvard Chan C-CHANGE.
- Burning of natural gas also results in pollutants such as Nitrous Oxide (NOx), and a 2022 study by Stanford University researchers (titled ‘Methane and NOx Emissions from Natural Gas Stoves, Cooktops, and Ovens in Residential Homes’) found that this could bring down the overall air quality in a home. Factors such as kitchen size and ventilation also impact this, with a smaller kitchen and fewer ventilation outlets mean greater accumulation of dangerous pollutants.
- The US EPA notes that breathing air with a high concentration of Nitrous Oxides, particularly Nitrous Dioxide, can irritate airways in the human respiratory system. Such exposures over short periods can aggravate respiratory diseases, particularly asthma, leading to coughing, wheezing or difficulty in breathing. People with asthma, as well as children and the elderly, are generally at greater risk.
So why is New York’s measure being criticised?
- Critics say the requirement to do away with such building appliances will add costs to new construction and put more strain on the electrical grid, AP In January this year, a suggestion for regulation from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission also spooked consumers who have long used such appliances. Republican lawmakers are also against the idea of the government having the power to “take away” a common household item, seeing it as an overreach. The oil and gas industry, with its interests tied to gas extraction, is also opposed to such policies.
- In some of the studies, including the Harvard study mentioned earlier, researchers have outlined certain tips that don’t all go as far as a phasing out. It suggested individual actions of getting an in-home natural gas leak detection survey done by plumbers or contractors, or investing in improving ventilation.
- At a policy level, it recommended that gas utility providers should be required to routinely measure and report more detailed information on the composition of natural gas. And, it asked the Consumer Product Safety Commission to set performance standards for gas stoves to limit pollutant emissions.
Has this been done anywhere else?
- In the United States, Washington state recently directed that heat pumps will now have to replace furnaces in most buildings instead of furnaces. Also, more than 80 local governments in the country have approved all-electric new construction requirements, with many of them municipalities in California, AP But even at a global level, mandating standards for household air pollution is, at the moment, a novel idea.