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We’re leading an all-out national mobilization to defeat the climate crisis.

Join our work today to help us build a thriving and just clean energy future. 

Clean Buildings Are Critical to Confronting Climate Change

Evergreen Explains: Why Congress must provide major investments in clean buildings through budget reconciliation legislation this month.

By Nate Kinsey, Evergreen Action Policy Advisor 

As Congress works to finalize a generational investment into fighting the climate crisis, from coast to coast, Americans are seeking refuge from wildfire smokehurricanestorrential rain, and extreme heat in an often overlooked piece of America’s infrastructure, buildings. America has 124 million residential buildings and 5.6 million commercial buildings that together have an outsized impact on everything from climate pollution to our public health. 

The burning of fossil fuels in 90 million residential buildings and 4 million commercial buildings for heating and cooking is responsible for 12% of America’s greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution and is a massive contributor to poor air quality. As of 2017, the burning of fossil fuels in our buildings overtook coal power plants as the second largest contributor to poor outdoor air quality, causing an estimated 18,300 early deaths and $205 billion in health impacts annually. These harms from air pollution fall greatest upon communities of color and low-income communities, who cannot afford building improvements like air filtration and ventilation.

Buildings impact how the entirety of America’s energy system operates. Buildings consume 76% of the nation’s electricity and 25% of the nation’s fossil gas annually. The climate crisis has increased the demand for heated and cooled homes and businesses. In turn, this has driven and extended the energy system’s seasonal “system peaks'' driving up GHG pollution, utility bills, and causing electricity blackouts. And the billions spent by gas utilities each year to maintain and operate an outdated fossil gas system built to serve buildings has skyrocketed since 2000. All these costs are most deeply felt by minority and low-income households who are more likely to live in poorly insulated and less energy-inefficient homes.

Source: U.S. Department of Energy

Buildings aren’t just structures; they should be shelters and safe spaces during extreme weather events. That wasn’t the case for millions of Americans this year. The June Pacific Northwest heat wave became a mass-casualty event because many of its victims had limited to no access to cooled spaces. All in all, the heatwave killed over 600 Americans and sent thousands more to emergency rooms for heat-related illnesses. February’s winter storm Uri froze Texas’s outdated power system, leaving 4.4 million people without power, killing over 100 Americans, and causing over $150 billion in damages. With the climate crisis upon us, it is clear that these extreme weather events will only increase in frequency.   

Investments in the nation’s building stock are investments in a central component of Americas’ infrastructure that can put millions to work confronting the climate crisis, eliminating local air pollution, addressing systemic racism present in our buildings and communities, and ensuring affordability. And while Congress has already taken some important steps this year to provide investments in our cleaning building stock—including a $4.5 billion down payment in the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), passed as part of the American Rescue Plan in March, plus a $3.5 billion down payment in the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), in the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act—this initial funding falls far short of the investments needed to transform America’s building stock into a nation of carbon-free, climate-ready, and affordable buildings.

For these and many other reasons, Congress must provide major investments in budget reconciliation legislation this month. 

"Investments in the nation’s building stock... can put millions to work confronting the climate crisis, eliminating local air pollution, addressing systemic racism present in our buildings and communities, and ensuring affordability." 

How to Create A Nation of Carbon-Free All-Electric Buildings

The simplest, cheapest, and cleanest way to create a carbon-free building is to power 100% of a building’s needs with all-electric and zero-emission technologies, like heat pumps and induction stoves, with 100% clean electricity. Heat pumps and induction stoves are not only the most energy-efficient technologies available today to meet a building’s heating and cooling needs, but they also eliminate toxic indoor air pollution and would reduce greenhouse gas pollution in every corner of America. This even includes cold climates like Alaska, where heat pumps started trending last year. To create a nation of carbon-free buildings, Congress must include the following policies in budget reconciliation:

  • Zero-Emission Appliance and Whole Home Retrofit Incentives: Federal investments in zero-emission appliance rebates, as proposed in the Zero-Emissions Homes Act introduced by Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and  state-administered programs to create a rebate marketplace for whole-home energy efficiency retrofits, prioritizing electrification, along with an online platform for contractor training, as proposed in the Hope for Homes Act; 

  • Tax Credits for Zero-Emission Buildings and Appliances: Federal tax credits through 25C, 45L, and 179D need to be extended and improved to promote the electrification and higher levels of energy efficiency in residential and commercial buildings. 

  • Public and Community Building Upgrades: Federal Investments and grants in schools, public buildings, and hospitals located in historically disenfranchised communities to enable electrification. 

Each of these policies should prioritize investments in disadvantaged communities, and the elimination of health and safety hazards (i.e., lead, asbestos, unsafe structural issues) unique to these households. These policies’ priorities will help ensure that the millions of low-to-moderate income households with appliances causing toxic indoor air pollution or older than 10 years old are not left behind in the transition. 

"As the extreme weather events and wildfires of 2020 and 2021 have shown us, our buildings and the broader energy system they interact with aren’t ready for climate change."

How to Create A Nation of Climate-Ready Buildings

Next, buildings should be climate-ready. As the extreme weather events and wildfires of 2020 and 2021 have shown us, our buildings and the broader energy system they interact with aren’t ready for climate change. Indeed, 97.8 million American households were built before 2000, and have not received the updates needed. But these buildings also leave Americans and the American economy vulnerable to the accelerating dangers of the climate crisis.   

Climate-ready buildings are properly weatherized (i.e., insulated and air-sealed), ventilated to ensure healthy indoor air, and equipped with space cooling (i.e., air conditioning). Climate-ready buildings are also grid-interactive buildings that use zero-emission electric appliances and systems to support “demand flexibility” to support a 100% clean power sector. To create a nation of climate-ready buildings, Congress must include the following policies in budget reconciliation: 

  • Fund Weatherization Retrofits: Funding for the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) to help achieve President Biden’s goal to weatherize two million homes in his first term. This investment can build upon funds in the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act by funding the new Weatherization Readiness Fund prioritizing homes historically “deferred” due to health and safety concerns; 

  • Incentivize State and Local Building Code Adoption: Investment in Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants (EECBG) to enable the Department of Energy to administer a clean energy challenge grants program to help incentivize states to adopt 2030 zero-emission building codes with high weatherization standards; 

These policies will overwhelmingly benefit low-income and disadvantaged communities, and help build communities that are more resilient to the climate crises. Redlining and other racist housing policies have resulted in families of color being more likely to live in older homes. Older homes are poorly weatherized and energy inefficient, making it expensive to run appliances, even zero-emission ones, and making the home and its occupants more vulnerable to the impacts of extreme weather events. This is especially true in the South, where states have historically opted not to adopt the latest energy buildings codes. 

Ensuring Clean Buildings are Affordable to All Americans

Finally, Congress must address America’s energy affordability crisis. 31% of American households struggle to pay their energy bills or maintain adequate heating and cooling in their homes. 30 million American households spend 6% or more of their income on energy bills. 15.9 million spend more than 10% of their income on energy bills. In addition, millions of low to moderate-income American households cannot afford the estimated $50,000 of health, safety, and upgrades necessary to enable carbon-free and climate-ready buildings. We must confront these affordability challenges head-on by including the following policies in the budget reconciliation legislation: 

  • Fund LIHEAP: Funding for LIHEAP to reduce energy burden and install life-saving air conditioners in millions of American homes; 

  • Invest in Healthy Homes: Funding, the Healthy Homes Program, enables homes with children exposed to health and safety hazards to install zero-emission appliances and receive weatherization improvements. 

  • Enable More Affordable Zero-Emission Homes: Extension and modification of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) to enable additional investment to flow into projects that complete a deep energy retrofit that saves more than 40 percent of a homes’ energy consumption. 

Investing in our nation’s buildings can reach every corner and community in America, but to realize President Biden’s ambitious and achievable vision for a nation of clean buildings Congress must act. As Congress finalizes budget reconciliation legislation this month and advances the bipartisan infrastructure bill, lawmakers must recognize the importance that investment in clean buildings can play in confronting the climate crisis, addressing systemic racism, and creating millions of good jobs and careers. 

Take Action 

Call your senator today to tell them you support transformational climate investments in the reconciliation bill and they should, too. Click here to get a script, and call 202-318-1885 to reach your senator and make your voice heard.