Our homes may be a source of safety, comfort, and stability—but they also represent a considerable slice of our country’s carbon emissions (over 20 percent, according to the latest estimate from the US Energy Information Administration). Addressing this piece of our energy system is essential to achieving our climate goals. Perhaps more important, improving the efficiency of our homes is a powerful tool for addressing the energy burden that disproportionately affects our low- and moderate-income (LMI) communities. Fortunately, cities around the United States are collaborating and taking aggressive action.
Several hurdles stand in the way of decisive policies addressing residential energy efficiency:
- A residential market mostly based on individual owners makes scaling change particularly challenging
- Local context (including climate, architectural style, and constituent priorities) is especially influential for residential buildings, elevating the importance of a customized approach
- Smaller buildings (with smaller budgets) can make it more difficult to achieve cost-effective project results with a customized approach
- Poorly designed policies, risk exacerbating housing affordability issues or slowing economic growth
Yet the public is increasingly demanding action from our governing bodies. Polling performed by Stanford University researchers recently found that 68 percent of Americans believe our government should do more to address climate issues. A study from the Demand Institute identified energy efficiency as the number one unmet need in residential housing, beating out other categories such as updated kitchens and finishes, privacy, and even safety.
More and more cities across the country are embracing climate and sustainability goals and are looking for solutions to build a more efficient economy, more affordable and equitable housing stock, and a more secure energy future. These cities are increasingly relying on collaborative efforts such as the American Cities Climate Challenge, the Net Zero Energy Coalition, or the City Energy Project to address the daunting challenge of achieving aggressive goals in residential housing and other hard-to-reach market segments. These collaborative opportunities ensure that cities can share lessons learned, navigate common policy pitfalls, and build on each other’s successes.
Leading cities across the country are already providing examples of what is possible. Santa Monica, California, implemented a zero-energy performance code for single-family homes in 2017, over a year before the California Public Utilities Commission’s decision to enforce this level of performance statewide. The city of Boulder, Colorado, adopted the country’s first efficiency standard for rental housing, inspiring others to follow suit. In February, Minneapolis passed a set of three major energy disclosure policies the country’s first efficiency standard for rental housing, inspiring others to follow suit.
These cities and more are driving toward aggressive climate goals with targeted action. How can we ensure these successes continue to be replicated and scaled?