San Francisco Bans New Natural Gas Hookups

The move will improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions.

Cooking in Chinese Restaurant


AleksandarNakic/ Getty Images

San Francisco has become the biggest American city yet to ban natural gas in new buildings. Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who wrote the legislation, says natural gas is responsible for 44% of the city's overall emissions and is responsible for 80% of building emissions.

Getting rid of natural gas reduces the risks of fires after earthquakes, although it will be many years before natural gas infrastructure is removed; the ban only applies to new construction, where new homes and buildings are designed to strict new energy codes, and can be easily heated and cooled with electric air-source heat pumps.

Another major benefit of banning gas is a dramatic improvement in indoor air quality and a reduction in nitrogen dioxide and PM2.5 emissions from cooking with gas; recent studies have confirmed that gas stoves and appliances are bad for your health. The Rocky Mountain Institute has noted that "Homes with gas stoves have approximately 50 percent to over 400 percent higher average NO2 concentrations than homes with electric stoves. In many cases, the short and long-term NO2 levels in homes with gas stoves are higher than outdoor EPA air quality standards." (Note: there are no indoor air quality standards in the USA.)

When asked whether people are opposing the ban, architect Mark Hogan tells Treehugger that "because it only affects new construction most of the complaining has been theoretical." But there is nothing theoretical about the response from the California Restaurant Association, which has been fighting a similar Berkeley law since it was passed. In San Francisco they negotiated an 18-month extension before new gas hookups are banned in restaurants, but may still sue as they did in Berkeley; restaurant operators complain that you can't cook certain kinds of food as quickly without gas. Cooks in Chinese restaurants are particularly vocal about this. However there are induction cookers made specifically for woks, and there are other savings for restaurants that go all-electric; they don't need as much ventilation.

Lawsuits in Berkeley

United States District Court

In Berkeley, the restaurant association was joined by the homebuilders, the heating contractors, and of course, the barbecue association, who are all fighting dismissal of the case, saying "it would also create legal uncertainty for numerous industries, many of which are already suffering because of implications caused by the COVID-19 pandemic." Treehugger notes that in fact, getting rid of pollution from burning natural gas might actually help; research has shown that urban air pollution may make COVID-19 more deadly.

Live better electrically

Live Better Electrically Campaign

But the homebuilders and the contractors have to get the message that times have changed, particularly in temperate California with its solar power and the coming battery storage revolution. As Nate the House Whisperer, part of the Electrify Everything movement has noted,

"Until recently, electric houses and cars were a sacrifice. Electric stoves weren't great to cook on. Heat pumps didn't work well in cold climates. Electric cars were glorified golf carts. All that has changed in the last few years with things like induction cooking, cold climate heat pumps, and Tesla cars."

While many cooks who have gas ranges still disagree, electric options are now as good or better than those running on fossil fuels.

The Sierra Club lists 38 cities and counties in California that have committed to going gas-free and notes that "over 50 cities and counties across the state are considering policies to support all-electric new construction." This is not going away.