What do the new Climate Action Plans say about buildings?

So many window A/C units in the world, so little time (image courtesy of Unsplash)
  • New construction
  • Existing buildings
  • Federal buildings only
  • Peripheral topics that you want to know about
  1. The Biden and Evergreen plans push for all new buildings to be constructed to be net zero carbon by 2030. This would be a big change for the design and construction industry.
  2. The House plan pushes for mandatory energy performance transparency for all buildings (or at least all commercial buildings).
  3. The Biden plan pushes for existing building energy performance standards, along with renovating 3m commercial and 2m residential buildings.
  4. The Biden and House plans push for enacting the Rebuild America’s Schools act, dedicated to renovating our failing public school buildings.
  5. All plans push for significant increases in LIHEAP, WAP and other similar low-income household building efficiency and improvement funding.
  6. All plans talk about the importance of affordable housing front and center, although their policy approaches range and are sometimes vague.
  7. All plans talk about electrification of buildings (i.e. the elimination of gas infrastructure), which is critical and a growing movement in our industry.
Plan overview
Plan highlights
  • The House Plan reads like a laundry list of things that have already been proposed or enacted, along with a few new things. The Buildings section isn’t very prioritized or strategic in layout, and it goes into some topics with a ton of detail and others have very little detail. The Biden and Evergreen plans have a lot less detail, but are better as broad vision documents. This is probably a reflection of the nature of the different branches of government to some degree. But I still think the House could paint a vision for buildings, as it does in some of the other sections of their Plan, such as the electricity section.
  • The consulting firm Energy Innovation did a full analysis of the impact that the House plan would have on climate change, which you can read here. They do a Pacala/Socolow-style stabilization wedge, and I couldn’t help but notice that the buildings impact is small compared to other solutions. The only noticeable wedge for buildings is the electrification wedge. Building retrofits barely shows up. This is super unfortunate- it makes it look like electrification is the only potential carbon reduction area for the buildings sector, and we know that is not true. It is super important and big, but efficiency and clean energy are big too. But the reason for this is that the House really doesn’t have much in their plan to reduce the energy consumption of buildings over time, which is just a missed opportunity that the Biden and Evergreen plans thankfully did not miss.
  • While all three plans use similar language and highlight similar issues, when you get into the details, there is not much commonality between the details for buildings, unlike what I hear is happening in some sectors like electricity where the democrats are coming together on a vision. I don’t think this is because of genuine differences of opinion, it feels more like lack of conversation and coordination, but I could be wrong.

New construction

Existing buildings

  • the Rebuild America’s Schools Act,
  • a commitment to establish building performance standards nationwide,
  • increasing funding for (what is likely) the Weatherization Assistance Project (WAP),
  • and it specifically calls out the goals of 4 million commercial and 2 million residential retrofits.

Federal Buildings

Important Other Topics for Buildings

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Lindsay Baker

Lindsay Baker

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