It’s time to climate-proof our homes

A worker carries insulation at a new housing construction site in Alexandria, Virginia October 17, 2012

A worker carries insulation at a new housing construction site in Alexandria, Virginia October 17, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Making homes greener and more comfortable has many benefits – but it will take concerted work

Lauren Salz is CEO and cofounder of home energy improvement climate tech company Sealed.

People and communities around the world are now feeling the impacts of climate change every day. With more extreme weather events happening more frequently, civilization must learn to adapt and cope with our new climate reality.

The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emphasized the need for adaptation, but cautioned against slowing down mitigation efforts aimed at curbing future impacts.

As the need for adaptation intensifies, now is the time to bring it home.

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Climate-proofing homes with energy efficiency and electrification upgrades is an infrastructure project that both prepares homes for future climate impacts and also curbs their contributions to the climate crisis.

A high-stakes moment

Extreme heat is the leading cause of weather-related deaths worldwide, and heatwaves are more directly attributable to climate change than other disasters. Multiple heatwaves and record-high temperatures dotted the United States in 2022.

When we think “infrastructure,” it conjures images of roads, bridges, power lines, and gas pipelines. But residential infrastructure–from single-family suburban homes to high-rise apartment buildings–must be included as we execute adaptive measures.

Residents of the Pacific Northwest historically have not needed air conditioning in their homes, but record-breaking heatwaves have repeatedly struck the region in recent years, making the addition of air conditioning an urgent need to reduce the risk of heat stroke.

Nationwide, 85% of single-family homes were built before 2000, when residential building energy standards became prevalent. Many of these homes have shoddy insulation, poor air sealing, and inefficient heating and cooling systems.

This makes it difficult and expensive to keep them safe and comfortable during extreme weather. In ever more common extreme weather events, effective home sealing and insulation can be the difference between life and death.

Weatherization and energy efficiency not only create healthier, more comfortable homes, but also reduce energy demand, and less energy used means fewer climate-altering greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted.

Homes that replace heating systems that run on fossil fuels with all-electric heat pump systems can eliminate GHG emissions from their homes entirely.

For example, heating oil in the Northeast is second only to coal in the amount of carbon dioxide it emits per unit of energy produced. Replacing a heating oil furnace with an electric heat pump system makes a huge improvement in a home’s GHG emission profile.

The IRA will help

The residential energy provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) will jump-start residential infrastructure improvements. Americans are already taking advantage of generous incentives in the bill, including a $2,000 tax credit for the purchase of a heat pump.

The IRA also supports contractors making residential infrastructure improvements with performance-based incentives.

This innovative approach ties financial rewards to energy savings, encouraging high-quality installations and ensuring projects perform as promised. These incentives include tax credits for work done in 2022 and beyond.

With stacked benefits, generous government support, and significant climate progress within reach, it’s time to build a climate-proofing movement!

Private companies, government agencies, and non-profits should highlight the multiple benefits of climate-proofing homes as other clean energy awareness campaigns are already doing.

A great example is the Switch Is On electrification public awareness campaign in California, which provides detailed, actionable information to homeowners and contractors.

Building a climate-proofing movement

Awareness is the missing link to widespread adoption of home energy improvements. State and local governments, home improvement businesses and tradespeople, and non-profits all have a role to play in getting the word out to ensure this historic opportunity doesn’t pass us by.

First, they should use all available communications strategies–advertising, marketing, social media, and everything in between–to make sure all Americans know about the multiple benefits of climate-proofing their homes and available incentives.

Second, they should prepare for the surge in demand for climate-proofing home improvements. Whether it’s an HVAC company hiring new technicians, a community college offering new training courses for electricians and plumbers, or contractors staffing up, the climate-proofing movement will alter the home improvement industry and everyone needs to prepare for that shift.

Third, we must tell the success stories that come out of climate-proofing. Six months, a year, and several years after residents have experienced lower energy bills, reduced GHG emissions, and more comfortable living, journalists, advocates, and the homeowners themselves must share their stories to inspire the next wave of climate-proofers.

In the world of climate action, few activities or investments offer progress on both mitigation and adaptation. Climate-proofing our residential infrastructure is one such activity that also delivers lower energy costs, significant public health benefits, and more comfortable homes.

The time to supercharge the climate-proofing movement is now.

Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Context or the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


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