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Should Massachusetts require all new residential and commercial buildings to be carbon net zero?


Jacob Stern

Somerville resident; deputy director, Massachusetts Sierra Club

Jacob Stern.
Jacob Stern.Grace Tepper

Massachusetts residents support meaningful, urgent action to avoid the worst impacts of climate disruption. Scientists say we must reduce pollution 45 percent by 2030 to have a shot at avoiding colossal disruptions to the environment as we know it. Unfortunately, state officials have no comprehensive policy to reduce pollution from gas and oil heat in buildings, which is responsible for around 31 percent of the Commonwealth’s climate pollution.

It has also become apparent that moving gas through leaky pipelines and burning it inside our homes and businesses poses a tremendous hazard every single day, not just to the stability of our climate, but to public safety and -- because pollution from natural gas contributes to asthma and other diseases -- public health.


Installing additional dirty energy infrastructure systems, including connecting new buildings to the gas network, means investing in soon-to-be-obsolete systems, which will increase long-term costs for families and businesses who live and work in them. Requiring that all new buildings not contribute to climate disruption will protect consumers from those risks and higher costs.

Now, we can help families and businesses save money and create jobs -- and protect our climate -- by switching to cleaner and more efficient electric appliances like heat pumps for heating and induction stoves for cooking. New all-electric buildings are safer, healthier, and most importantly more affordable, as they avoid the costs of connecting to gas. Policies proposed in Massachusetts to support transitioning off gas and oil to clean electricity also have common-sense exceptions for buildings like emergency facilities.

Requiring that new buildings and major renovations eliminate climate pollution and rely on clean electricity is simply the first step to protecting consumers and our climate. It is critical to ensure those in our communities who already struggle to access affordable quality homes are first in line for the benefits of getting dirty and dangerous fuels out of our buildings. We have an opportunity to fix health and safety problems, improve efficiency, and increase access to safer, more comfortable, healthier, and more affordable all-electric housing. It is time for our state officials to take bold action to invest in cleaner buildings and start a responsible transition off gas.



Emerson Clauss III

Owner of general contracting firm that works in MetroWest region; President-elect of the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts

Emerson Clauss III
Emerson Clauss III

That climate change is real is beyond dispute. But homebuilders and remodelers know that proposals for climate mitigation and adaptation cannot ignore technical and economic realities.

That’s the problem with legislation to mandate a zero net energy building code.

Achieving a zero net energy building with today’s technology is not always feasible in large commercial and residential buildings. And where it can be done, rents in those properties will be exceedingly high. What good is a zero net energy apartment to prospective tenants if they can’t afford to live there?

The added cost to build a zero net energy single-family house will become a financial barrier to homeownership for thousands of young families hoping to purchase a home of their own. According to the National Association of Home Builders, for every $1,000 added to the cost of a new home, 127,560 potential buyers no longer qualify for a mortgage.

Massachusetts already has the third highest housing costs in the country. Requiring builders to meet a zero net energy code will ensure that we’ll leapfrog California and Hawaii to become the most expensive state to buy a home.


New homes today are incredibly airtight and supremely energy efficient. In Massachusetts, all newly constructed homes must meet the energy performance standards of the latest edition of the International Energy Conservation Code. Requiring those homes to be built to a zero net energy code is misguided.

An energy retrofit program for existing homes would be a more practical and cost effective approach towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the residential sector. Consider the fact that nationwide there are 129 million homes, of which 105 million were built before 2000, meaning only 24 million were built to any form of “modern” energy code. And in Massachusetts, we have some of the oldest housing stock in the nation.

A zero net energy building code may be achievable and affordable some day. For the time being, however, programs and policies that encourage current homeowners and apartment managers to upgrade their properties to make them more energy efficient is the best way to address climate change without making housing more even more expensive.

This is not a scientific survey. Please only vote once.

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact laidler@globe.com.