Bay Area to phase out sale of gas heating appliances, in first-in-nation step to clean up smog

By Chloe Zilliac

Gas appliances produce more smog in Bay Area than passenger vehicles, will not be eligible for sale starting later this decade 

Rule ensures gradual transition to high-efficiency electric heat pumps, and is likely to be adopted by regions outside of California 

SAN FRANCISCO — Fossil fuel furnaces and water heaters in the Bay Area that break down later this decade will be replaced with clean electric alternatives like heat pumps, according to a first-in-the-nation standard approved today by regulators at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD). The new rule is aimed at tackling pollution from gas water heaters and furnaces, which are responsible for more nitrogen oxide pollution than all passenger vehicles in the Bay Area combined.

“Millions of Californians are living with toxic air pollution spewing out of their basements and utility closets. The Bay Area’s historic, nation-leading standard will help support a well-managed transition to electric alternatives, providing enormous health benefits, particularly for children, pregnant women, the elderly, and lower-income families,” said Dr. Mary Williams from San Francisco Physicians for Social Responsibility.

BAAQMD developed the standard in partnership with health, environmental, environmental justice, and community groups as part of their plan for meeting federal air quality standards that protect health. The rule’s passage was supported by the Building and Construction Trades Councils from all 9 Bay Area counties, and the Bay Area’s biggest dual-fuel utility, PG&E.

Regulators estimate that implementation of the rule will prevent 15,000 asthma attacks and avoid up to 85 premature deaths every year due to improvements in air quality. The standard will take effect in 2027 for single-family residential water heaters, 2029 for residential furnaces, and 2031 for multifamily and commercial water heaters. 


“The Bay Area’s pollution-free appliance standard should serve as a model not only for the state of California, but for the nation. We now have a roadmap for transitioning homes from fossil fuels to pollution-free electric alternatives like heat pumps. This is a groundbreaking moment,” said Leah Louis-Prescott, manager at RMI.

The entirety of the California market is likely to follow in the Bay Area’s footsteps, as state regulators at the California Air Resource Board kick off development of their own appliance standard. Last year, the agency committed to phasing out the sale of gas heating appliances by 2030.

BAAQMD’s appliance standard and state commitments pave the way for electric heat pumps, which provide both heating and cooling, to become the standard in California homes in coming years. The technology is already dominant across large parts of the U.S. due to its incredible efficiency: heat pumps are two to four times more efficient than gas furnaces, and provide cooling that is 50% more efficient than window A.C. units. 

Rapid heat pump adoption in California could supercharge a market transformation that is already well underway across the county. Heat pump shipments outpaced gas furnaces every month last year for the first time, and more households now use electricity than gas for heating – up from just 25% of homes 30 years ago. 


To support the transition to electric heat pumps in homes, the federal government and state of California have approved billions in incentives for clean electric appliances, which will become available starting later this year. These subsidies will be essential to ensuring that the transition away from fossil fuel heat is affordable for low-income communities already burdened by the Bay Area’s staggering housing costs.

According to an analysis from SPUR, single-family households who electrify when their gas appliances burn out while taking advantage of subsidies will save $8,000 in upfront cost compared to replacing them with equivalent gas appliances, while owners of low-income buildings will save $7,000 per unit in upfront costs.

“Low-income households can actually save money by choosing pollution-free heat pumps over fossil fuel appliances, when taking advantage of all state and federal subsidies. That’s exactly the kind of support households need, and it should be maintained for the next decade, as the Bay Area’s new appliance standard goes into effect,” said Laura Feinstein, Sustainability and Resilience Policy Director, SPUR.

The cost of installing and manufacturing heat pumps is also likely to fall in coming years as the market expands, driving down costs. The zero-emissions sales standards under consideration now will send a strong market signal about where California is headed, supporting continued cost reductions.


Implementation of BAAQMD’s appliance standard will help address the pressing need for cooling in the Bay Area, which is quickly becoming a public health necessity as heat waves become more severe and frequent with climate change. In the S.F. metropolitan area, only 47% of homes have air conditioning, and access to cooling is even lower in low-income communities.

Older air conditioning systems are a major drag on California’s electricity grid, and by driving adoption of more efficient cooling, BAAQMD’s standard could support a more resilient electricity grid. If California replaced the 40% of our state’s air conditioning units that are more than 14 years old with heat pumps, which are 50% more efficient, we could save up to 2 gigawatts of electricity load – the equivalent of the power generated at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant.

In addition to boosting climate resilience, heat pump adoption will also cut a major source of fossil fuel pollution that is driving hotter temperatures. Burning fossil fuels in homes for heating is responsible for roughly 11% of California’s statewide climate emissions.

“Gas is a potent fossil fuel, and burning it in homes is incompatible with meeting California’s climate targets. As California reels this winter from torrential rain, on the heels of severe drought, it has never been more clear that we need to move aggressively to transition away from the fossil fuels that are driving more extreme weather patterns,” said Melissa Yu, Senior Energy Campaigns Representative at the Sierra Club.


To ensure that the communities of color and low-income communities most burdened by air pollution, the climate crisis, and high energy bills benefit from electrification, and are not burdened by the cost of the transition, BAAQMD must work alongside communities to equitably implement its newly-adopted appliance standard. 

“The staggering cost of housing and rising utility bills are already pushing out low-income communities and communities of color in the Bay Area. Bay Area policymakers must ensure that the transition away from fossil fuel appliances is part of the solution for more affordable, climate-resilient housing, and not part of the problem. We are dedicated to working with policymakers to ensure follow-through with equitable implementation of this plan,” said Megan Leary, Community Engagement and Policy Manager at Emerald Cities San Francisco Bay Area. 

Chloe Zilliac is a media strategist at Sunstone Strategies.