All-electric homes are cheaper to build than fossil fuel residences

Report from home builders, MIT, and Wentworth reaches misleading conclusions

OUTSIDE THE STATE LEGISLATURE’S doors, our air was filled with wildfire smoke from Canada and extreme heat, while record flooding wiped out farms and livelihoods in western Massachusetts. Inside, lobbyists and special interests used a flawed academic report in an attempt to undermine Massachusetts’s climate goals, creating false headlines designed to push us back decades.

Earlier this month, the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts partnered with researchers from MIT and the Wentworth Institute of Technology to claim that all-electric buildings are too expensive to build. Not only is that just not true, it’s not what the association’s own report shows us. All-electric homes cost less to build than those using gas.  When incentives from Mass Save and the Inflation Reduction Act are factored in, they’re even cheaper.  Those findings are also consistent with a new report from the Passive House Network and independent analysis by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources.

All-electric homes are the only viable pathway to slash the 30 percent greenhouse gas emissions that come from Massachusetts buildings.  So let’s take a look at how climate-resilient homes can not only reduce emissions, but save people money. Not only are all-electric homes cheaper to build, they reduce monthly energy bills thanks to the incredible efficiency of appliances such as heat pumps.  After years of high gas rates and heating and propane oil prices due to the volatile price of fossil fuels, these savings are more important than ever.

Beyond the cost savings, all-electric homes protect our health. When burned indoors, gas appliances are responsible for 15% of childhood asthma in Massachusetts, and emit toxic pollutants that exacerbate respiratory illnesses and carcinogens like benzene at levels higher than second-hand smoke. By building homes without gas and other fossil fuels, we eliminate a major source of indoor air pollution, preventing countless chronic illnesses and ER visits.

Where the home builders report begins to go off the rails is the inclusion of outdated building codes to make false comparisons that inflate the cost of building without fossil fuels. The report authors also used luxury housing models that are not typical of affordable housing projects, as well as significantly underestimating the cost of adding new methane gas pipelines. In addition, the report failed to include rebates from Mass Save and the Inflation Reduction Act designed to bring costs down. All this results in a false picture of higher costs, creating a tool for the gas industry to push their fossil fuel agenda.

In fact, the report finds that the main drivers of cost are not building codes, but policy issues including zoning, permitting delays, and legal challenges, as well as post-pandemic supply chain issues, higher costs of construction, and higher lending costs. The policy recommendations in the report closely align with changes in policy called for by environmental and housing groups, including calls for a Green Bank that was recently launched by the Healey administration.

This isn’t the first time the real estate and gas industry have spun academic reports to sow doubt and push false solutions. Late last year, reporters discovered that National Grid executives and lobbyists paid for and directly influenced a report from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell that purported hydrogen as a viable solution for home heating. This report, riddled with flaws and false assertions, was then used by the gas industry during regulatory proceedings, in conversations with lawmakers, and before the public.

Meet the Author

Lindsay Sabadosa

State representative, Northampton
Meet the Author

Lisa Cunningham

Co-founder, Zero Carbon MA
The climate disasters we witness every day make it abundantly clear: we cannot delay any action that can measurably reduce our emissions and protect our residents from the significant health and fiscal impacts of climate change. The good news is that all these reports conclude that we can build clean, healthier housing, for less money, and at a lower life cycle cost.  Upgrading homes with clean energy, as every state climate roadmap has repeatedly emphasized, is essential to achieving a more affordable, healthier future. Let’s build on our progress, rather than let scare tactics drag us backwards.

Lindsay Sabadosa is a state representative from Northampton and Lisa Cunningham is an architect and principal and co-founder of ZeroCarbonMA, a non-profit climate advocacy group currently working with over 60 communities in Massachusetts.