Single-family housing starts ended 2020 on a high note, rising 12% in December to a 1.338 million unit pace – the highest pace since 2006, according to the Census Bureau.
That’s up 27.8% from one year ago, a remarkable figure given the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, per industry officials.
“2020 will go down, quite unexpectedly, as one of the best years for home builders in recent memory, and proof that great challenges — and not just those posed by COVID — can be overcome with hard work and creativity,” said Matthew Speakman, Zillow economist. “Demand for homes remains sky high, despite the still-raging pandemic, as people look to take advantage of historically low mortgage rates and find their next home. “
An estimated 1.380 million housing units were started in 2020 – 7% percent above the 2019 figure of 1.29 million
Remarkably, most industry experts believe construction rates will climb even higher in 2021.
“We expect single-family construction to move up 9% in 2021 — a much-needed relief valve for homebuyers,” said Danielle Hale, chief economist at Realtor.com. “While buyer demand has slowed since December, it remains notably higher than one year ago, giving builders a strong incentive to keep building.”
“Supply-side headwinds will remain in 2021,” added Odeta Kushi, First American deputy chief economist. “Given the underbuilding that took place in the decade following the Great Recession, it will take years for builders to close the deficit.”
Even with the promise of additional relief funding from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, most homebuyers are still looking for houses with large work-from-home areas — a sign that confidence in the eradication of the virus, and a restart of face-to-face interaction, remains low.
“The past year has also cemented the smooth transition towards touring homes virtually and digitalizing many parts of the mortgage process, making homebuying much safer in light of the ongoing public health situation,” said John Pataky, executive vice president at TIAA Bank.
Privately-owned housing starts in December also jumped from November — a 5.8% rise with a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.669 million. That’s also 5.2% above the December 2019 rate of 1.587 million.
Austin Niemiec, Rocket Pro TPO executive vice president, urged brokers to maintain a focus on purchasing and ensuring solid internal processes.
“Brokers should be ready to support clients looking to secure their dream home,” he said. “This will be another strong year for loan officers, and new houses will play an important role in making sure we assist buyers at a high level.”
In authorizations, units in buildings with five units or more were authorized at a rate of 437,000 in December. Privately owned housing units authorized by building permits in December were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,709,000 — 4.5% above the revised November rate of 1.635 million.
Single-family authorizations in December were at a rate of 1.226 million, a rise of 7.8% above the November figure of 1.137 million.
Lawrence Yun, National Association of Realtors chief economist, is optimistic the housing sector will be a major player in the economy’s recovery in 2021.
“More construction also means more local job creation,” he said. “The worst of the housing shortage could soon come to an end.”
In the past year, homeowners with mortgages, representing about 63% of all properties, have seen their equity increase by 10.8%, according to CoreLogic.
That equates to a collective $1 trillion in gained equity, or an average $17,000 per homeowner.
This is the largest equity gain in more than six years.
Blake Nissen | The Boston Globe via Getty Images
American homeowners are $1 trillion richer as the pandemic-driven housing boom pads their pockets.
As prices rise, home equity multiplies. In the past year, homeowners with mortgages, representing about 63% of all properties, have seen their equity increase by 10.8%, according to CoreLogic.
That equates to a collective $1 trillion in gained equity, or an average $17,000 per homeowner, the largest equity gain in more than 6 years.
Homeowners in some states saw greater equity gains than others. States with the hottest home prices saw the biggest gains.
In Washington state, homeowners banked an average of $35,800. In California they gained $33,800 and in Massachusetts an average of $31,200.
However, homeowners in North Dakota, which was particularly hard-hit by the pandemic, saw the lowest annual equity gain of just $5,400.
“Over the past year, strong home price growth has created a record level of home equity for homeowners,” said Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic. “The average family with a home mortgage loan had $194,000 in home equity in the third quarter. This provides an important buffer to protect families if they experience financial difficulties.”
It has contributed to historically low foreclosure rates, although part of that is also due to mortgage forbearance programs put in place at the start of the pandemic. Still, it will help those borrowers who are struggling most and may not be able to keep their homes. They can sell into the market and potentially still make a profit.
Prices are rising so quickly because demand for housing is incredibly strong and supply equally lean. The work and school-from-home culture of the pandemic only increased demand that had already been rising, as the millennial generation aged into their homeowning years. Mortgage rates, which have set 14 record lows so far this year, have helped even more buyers get in the game.
So far, homebuying has not eased much, especially for newly built homes. Signed contracts on existing homes, however, fell slightly in September and October. This may be less a demand issue and more a problem with continued tight supply, as well as weakening affordability.
Some, however, claim the run on housing may actually be running out of steam.
“With pent-up demand from the spring now largely expended, mortgage interest rates unlikely to fall further, inventory at record lows and early signs that the exodus from cities is slowing, home sales will edge back further over 2021,” wrote Matthew Pointon, property economist with Capital Economics. “That, alongside tight credit conditions, suggest the current boom in house prices will prove short-lived.”
The exodus from major cities also appears to be slowing, with some buyers heading back in looking for bargains.
While home price gains may ease, prices are unlikely to weaken dramatically, simply because of the supply and demand imbalance. That will continue to help those borrowers who have the least amount of equity.
As it stands now, the share of borrowers in a negative equity position, owing more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, is down over 18% from a year ago. There are now just 3%, 1.6 million mortgaged properties, in a negative equity position.
Newsday RM via Getty Images Photo of home for sale in Huntington, New York on August 5, 2020. New York City suburbs are seeing a huge increase in real estate demand amid the pandemic.
New York City apartment sales plunged in July, according to a report from the real-estate firm Douglas Elliman.
But in neighboring suburbs, home sales are surging as wealthy New Yorkers seek greener pastures.
For Connecticut — which has struggled to rebound even from the last recession — the migration could be a boon for its struggling finances.
Only one Manhattan condo sold for more than $10 million in July, according to a new report, as many wealthy New Yorkers continue to flee the city for greener pastures.
Overall apartment sales fell 57% in July compared to the same month in 2019 as for-sale listing soar, real estate firm Douglas Elliman said in its monthly report, a highly-watched data source for the nation’s largest housing market.
As the US largely fails to stop the spread of the coronavirus, short-term escapes appear to be turning in to long-term moves, potentially fueling a rebirth for struggling suburbs. In Westchester County, directly north of the five boroughs, overall single-family sales were up 112% over last year, with those over $2 million more than quadrupling.
And in Connecticut, the areas closest to New York City saw a similar uptick in-step with Westchester. The state was hit hard by the housing crisis more than a decade ago, and has struggled to recover in the years since. Connecticut is one of just two states in the country where gross domestic product has yet to recover from the previous recession and its employment numbers have lagged neighboring states, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
“We are going to market ourselves more to those individuals as opposed to marketing ourselves to the company,” a state economic-development official told The Wall Street Journal, assuming that the days of commuting to an office in Manhattan’s core or corporate parks are on the skids for now. People working from home in Connecticut could be a much-needed boost to the state’s income tax base — and its lawn-laden towns and countryside feel all the more attractive in the middle of a pandemic.
But while the shift in high-end housing is shaping up to be a boon for some towns and brokers, investors are circling distressed assets at depressed prices as unemployment remains above 10% and out-of-work Americans struggle to pay rent.
“Real-estate investors — when you take the emotion out of it — many of them have been waiting for this for a decade,” David Schechtman, a broker with Meridian Capital Group, told The Wall Street Journal in April. The economy has seen little improvement in the months since.
Magnificent natural beauty and unbeatable scenery abounds in America’s legendary mountain ranges. But if you’re not into backcountry camping or roughing it, accessing this country’s towering terrain can be puzzling. Lucky for you, there are plenty of mountain towns chock-full of character and class that make visiting some of the United States’ most stunning regions a breeze.
From the obvious to the underrated, these are the best mountain towns in America.
Boasting world-class ski slopes sprawling across more than 2,000 acres, it’s no wonder Telluride and its ski resort top our list of best mountain towns in America. It was also ranked as the number one Best Small Town to Visit according to U.S. News and World Report. The town of roughly 2,500 residents is nestled in a steep valley dominated by the San Juan Mountains. Come in winter and choose from nearly 150 uncrowded ski trails. Visit in summer and the same terrain becomes an epic hiking range. History buffs will enjoy poking around this former gold mining town and visiting the Telluride Historical Museum and even non-skiers will love soaking up the atmospheric Mountain Village.
Lesser known, but no less enticing, McCall is a perfectly-situated resort town offering a host of activities in every season. Payette Lake, a glassy glacier lake framed by the snow-dusted peaks of the Payette National Forest, booms in the summertime. Brundage Mountain’s mixture of groomed trails and backcountry terrain draws skiers and snowboarders throughout the long winters. Top off a chilly day on the slope with a dip in the Gold Fork Hot Springs, just 30 miles south of town. And if you visit in winter, the renowned McCall Winter Carnival is a must.
Taos, New Mexico
It’s usually deserts, not mountains, that come to mind when you think of the American Southwest. But you can find the best of both worlds in Taos, a spirited town full of culture and tradition that also happens to be wrapped in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Taos is best known for Taos Ski Valley, a rugged and untamed resort with beginner to advanced trails. But the town also houses the only Native American community that’s designated both a UNESCO site and National Historic Landmark. Taos Pueblo showcases 1,000 years of history in its iconic mud and straw dwellings. Combine the slopes and the deep-rooted history with the town’s natural beauty and its appeal becomes undeniably clear.
Sitting on the cusp of the Blue Ridge Mountains (a segment of the Appalachians) in northeast Georgia, Helen oozes charm. With cobblestone streets, mountain cabins for purchase, and painted buildings, you’ll feel like you stepped out of Georgia and into a European alpine village. Its location makes it a desirable year-round destination. The Chattahoochee National Forest flows right into Helen’s state parks, veiling numerous waterfalls, hundreds of miles of hiking trails, multiple beaches, and countless fishing spots. Designated Georgia’s Outdoor Adventure Destination, Helen also offers tubing in the Chattahoochee River, camping, mountain biking and kayaking. In between adventures, dive into the dozens of specialty shops packed into the town’s two square miles. Helen’s got everything you might want – and more.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Located on the southern border of two heavy-hitting national parks and surrounded by the almighty Teton Mountain Range, Jackson Hole is far from an unknown mountain town. The town’s claim to fame is undoubtedly the world-renowned Jackson Hole Mountain Resort which is more like its own self-operating village. Hotels and restaurants pepper Rendezvous Mountain, but it’s the world-class ski slopes spread over 2,500 acres and the 400 inches of annual snowfall that make the resort a destination in itself. Not being a snow bunny isn’t an excuse to avoid Jackson Hole. There are still plenty of other activities to enjoy, like exploring Grand Teton National Park, catching a show at the historic Jackson Hole Playhouse and taking a dip in the exquisite Granite Hot Springs.
Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville marches to the beat of its own drum (literally) and offers no apologies. Littered with breweries, hipster hang-outs, and live music venues, Asheville is a quirky mountain town with a ton of flair. Tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville sits a mere 130 miles northeast of our Helen, Georgia but embodies its own drastically-different character. Scenic drives, hiking and picnicking top our list of favorite pastimes in Asheville. When it’s time to let loose, hit up the downtown for a generous helping of live music bars, worldly cuisine, craft breweries and off-beat entertainment options – dinner and a belly dance, anyone?
“I feel like I’m on the edge of a cliff, and I’m just waiting for a push to send me over.”
Daniella Vega has called every tenant hotline she could find, but she still doesn’t know if she’s on the cusp of being evicted. The 27-year-old artist shared a three-bedroom apartment with in Bushwick with two roommates, but they both moved out due to the pandemic, saddling the freelancer with the $3,200 rent. She’s paid what she can from her savings but now owes two months in back rent, and her landlord has been distressingly unresponsive to recent emails. The fear of eviction, Vega says, is ever present.
“I feel like I’m on the edge of a cliff, and I’m just waiting for a push to send me over,” she says. Vega is among the tens of thousands of New York renters struggling to understand the labyrinth of state orders and court guidance, issued at the beginning of the pandemic and continually updated over the past few months, that are dictating what can already be an opaque evictions process. Now, with housing courts partially reopened in New York City, push may soon come to shove for many renters like Vega who are behind on rent, or who haven’t paid at all since March.
Vega has yet to receive a notice from her landlord, but she is bracing for the possibility that she may be among the proverbial “tidal wave” of new eviction cases — at least 50,000 — that housing advocates estimate New York landlords will file in the coming weeks.
A blanket moratorium on evictions, ordered by Governor Andrew Cuomo, prevented New York renters from losing their homes over the past three months. But as of June 20, protections under that order narrowed. Instead, the current safeguards only apply to tenants who are eligible for unemployment or who have experienced a “financial hardship” related to COVID-19. People who meet those requirements cannot be evicted before August 20. How precisely the courts will decide who is protected under the extended moratorium has created confusion for tenant and landlord attorneys alike.
It’s a determination that could have far-reaching consequences for renters and property owners. But new guidance from the Office of Court Administration has temporarily put a pin in the issue by pausing all new eviction cases and the execution of warrants until at least July 6. Cases can be filed by mail, but those will be adjourned.
The bewildering complexity of the situation has added to the uncertainty for renters and their advocates. For months, tenant-rights groups, including the statewide Housing Justice for All coalition, have urged the governor to extend the blanket eviction moratorium, and on Monday, they took that message to the courts, with hundreds gathering outside of courthouses across the boroughs.
In Brooklyn, protesters railed outside the borough’s civil courts before marching through the streets of Downtown, chanting “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Evictions have got to go!” Demonstrators in Manhattan participated in a die-in while holding signs that read “People Over Property.” And in Queens and the Bronx, dozens more shouted their outrage over megaphones, calling on Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio to offer greater relief to renters and pleading for the housing courts to remain closed.jason wu, esq. #FreeThemAll4PublicHealth@CriticalRace
“While the government has told us to stay in our homes, they’re now refusing to protect our ability to actually do that,” Kim Statuto told the crowd outside the Bronx courts. Statuto, a tenant leader with Community Action for Safe Apartments, is on a rent strike in her Claremont Village apartment building, where she has lived with her two adult children — who were both laid off from their jobs in March — for 26 years. “It’s not our fault we can’t pay, but when the courts reopen, we’re the ones that are going to suffer,” Statuto added.
Patrick Tyrrell, a tenant attorney with Mobilization for Justice who joined protesters in Brooklyn, says the issue of restarting evictions has become a “political hot potato” that has led to shaky leadership from the governor and the courts. “No one wants to be the person that says we’re going to evict people,” says Tyrrell. “But at the same time, they’re giving landlords these pinhole opportunities to protect their interests. It shows how politics can create a horrible process.”
That process is one that attorneys are still trying to piece together. Uncertainty lingers over the exact criteria tenants must meet to qualify for protection under the governor’s second executive order.
And that creates a harrowing situation for tenants like Vega who, as a freelancer, wasn’t laid off because of the pandemic, but her income did take a hit with several canceled commissions. “How do I prove that was directly related to the pandemic?” she questions. “It clearly was, but I have no idea how I’d even prove that. It’s terrifying that no one can tell me.”
Landlords who do choose to mail in new eviction cases will also have to provide an affidavit confirming that they have reviewed all existing state and federal restrictions on evictions and believe “in good faith” that the case is “consistent with those proceedings and qualifications,” according to guidance issued by New York State chief administrative judge Lawrence Marks.
But that order, landlord attorneys argue, may be overly burdensome for property owners, who have their own bills to pay, to pursue new cases.
Landlords also run the risk of potentially subjecting themselves to penalties if they wrongfully interpret those directives. Furthermore, they would have to attest that they have reason to believe a tenant is not eligible for unemployment benefits or is not otherwise facing financial hardship as a result of COVID-19 — but again, neither the governor nor the courts have concretely defined what constitutes such a hardship.
“I don’t say this lightly, but the New York City Housing Court has essentially ceased to function,” says landlord attorney Nativ Winiarsky, partner with Kucker Marino Winiarsky & Bittens, LLP.
according to real estate lead generation companies, landlords looking for relief may try to pursue eviction cases in the Supreme Court or through other nonhousing civil-court channels, but that’s a laborious process that could prove too costly for some landlords to pursue. “All of this, I believe, is effectively and severely unfairly impacting a landlord’s property and due-process rights,” adds Winiarsky.
This has left Vega feeling like she’s caught between two worlds, and without greater relief from the state or city, she expects to remain stuck. “Everyone is trying to squeeze whatever they can get out of everyone right now, and that’s because the government has failed us,” says Vega. “We need to cancel rent. We need to cancel mortgages. And if we don’t, I am the one who will suffer.”
Going down an Amazon product rabbit hole, you can find just about anything. There’s some weird stuff out there, like this Nicolas Cage sequin pillow and this wine bra. But deep into the patio and outdoor category, you’ll find one major (OK, huge) item that you probably didn’t know existed on Amazon: tiny houses.
If you can’t get enough of the TV shows that are all about tiny house-living, you can actually live out your own tiny home dreams by purchasing one from Amazon. There’s one caveat however — the tiny houses come as a kit that you then have to build yourself. But if you’ve been looking for your next backyard DIY project, we’ve found it.
While you’d expect tiny homes to be a bit of a splurge purchase, Allwood’s 172-sqaure foot Solvalla Studio got so popular after customers found it on the site in May 2019 that it sold out in less than a week.
Right now, Allwood is the primary brand that’s selling these tiny house kits on Amazon, and unsurprisingly, they aren’t cheap. One the most affordable options is one that’s 113-square feet going for a mere $5,350. There’s one that’s even selling for more than $64,000!
But what’s interesting about these kits if you read the product description is that they can be built by two people in just eight hours. Each “cabin kit” also comes with all the building materials and directions you would need. There’s even a kit that can make a two-room tiny house! Plus, all of the options are less than 250 square feet too, in case your space is limited.
While these tiny cabins could act as little backyard getaway, they don’t come with electricity or utilities, which is an added expense. And if you’re wondering exactly what you could do in this tiny home exactly, well the product description mentions that they are ideal as a “backyard recreation lounge, guest house or even a home office.”
Oddly enough, these tiny homes are one of Amazon’s most sought-out products right now. So if you have the space, the time and the money, it might be worth investing in, to finally live out those tiny house dreams of yours. By the way, if you hop over to this website you’ll find a discount code that may get you a discount.
Below, we’ve rounded up the top six more ~affordable~ options to browse before they might sell out.
“Mortgage rates have drifted down for two weeks in a row and that drop reflects improvements in market liquidity and sentiment,” said Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s Chief Economist. “While the market has stabilized relative to prior weeks, homebuyer demand has declined in response to current economic conditions. The good news is that the pending economic stimulus is on the way and will provide support for both consumers and businesses.”
30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.33 percent with an average 0.7 point for the week ending April 2, 2020, down from last week when it averaged 3.50 percent. A year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.08 percent.
15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 2.82 percent with an average 0.6 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.92 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.56 percent.
Average commitment rates should be reported along with average fees and points to reflect the total upfront cost of obtaining the mortgage. Visit the following link for the Definitions. Borrowers may still pay closing costs which are not included in the survey.
In the fourth quarter of 2019, the delinquency rate for mortgage loans on single-family homes1 decreased to 3.8% of all loans outstanding, according to the latest iteration of the Mortgage Bankers Association’s National Delinquency Survey. This is the lowest it has been since the series started in 1979. The delinquency rate includes loans that are at least one payment past due but does not include loans in the process of foreclosure. Additionally, the “seriously delinquent” rate, the percentage of loans that are 90 days or more past due or are in the process of foreclosure decreased to 1.8%, the lowest it has been since 2005.
The above figure shows the serious delinquency rate of all loans and its components, FHA and VA loans, which are government-insured mortgages, and conventional loans. The seriously delinquent rates of FHA and VA loans increased from the previous quarter. For the fourth quarter of 2019, the five states with the lowest seriously delinquent rates were Colorado, California, Washington, Arizona, and Oregon and the five states with the highest seriously delinquent rates were Puerto Rico, New York, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Maine.
For simplicity, the term “single-family” is used but denotes one- to four-unit residential properties.
Some of the hardest evidence yet indicates that the 2017 Republican tax law is pushing money and people from high-tax U.S. states like New York and New Jersey and into low-tax states including Florida.
In 2018, low- and lower-tax states gained $32 billion more in adjusted gross income than higher tax states, according to a Bank of America Global Research analysis of income migration data. You can visit here https://taxfyle.com/blog/how-does-adjusted-gross-income-work/ about how adjusted gross income work. The net gain — almost $2 billion more than in 2017 — was nearly twice the average over the last 13 years. The Republican overhaul capped state and local deductions at $10,000, making it harder for people to shield as much income from taxes as they could before.
At the same time, states like Florida and Texas, which don’t have an income tax, are seeing more and more people move there. New York, California, Connecticut and New Jersey — the states that had the highest average SALT deductions, lost about 455,000 people between July 1, 2018 and July 1, 2019, compared with 408,500 the prior year, according to U.S. Census data. Most of the increase came from people leaving California.
“The implication would be at the very least, people are sensitive to large changes in federal tax policy,” said Ian Rogow, a municipal strategist at Bank of America who analyzed the data.
Almost half of income taxes paid to California, New York and New Jersey come from the wealthiest 1% of households. If they were to move in large enough numbers, those states could be in trouble. So far, however, the federal tax overhaul — which broadened the tax base — and steady economy growth has led to higher-tax state revenue overall. States collected $327.7 billion in income tax revenue in the first three quarters of 2019, about 6% more than the same period in 2018, according to the Census Bureau.
To be sure, people move for a variety of reasons: jobs, housing costs and the weather among them. Despite having the third-highest personal income tax rate, Oregon was the second-most popular moving destination in the U.S., according to United Van Lines Annual Movers Study. The survey found that job changes and retirement were the two biggest reasons for leaving the northeast.
Related: Florida, Trump’s New Home, Leads U.S. in the Migration of Money
The Republicans’ 2017 tax law capped the SALT deduction as a way to help pay for $1.5 trillion in corporate and personal income tax cuts. Governors in Democratic-led states most affected by the new limit, including New York and New Jersey, accused Republicans of targeting them to pay for the cut. In October a federal judge ruled against New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Maryland, which had sued to overturn the cap, arguing it was unconstitutional. The states are appealing.
The SALT limit significantly raised the effective taxes for wealthy residents of blue states. In 2017, about 140,000 tax filers in Manhattan with adjusted gross income of $200,000 or more paid $21 billion in state and local income taxes, or $150,000 on average, according to IRS data. About 83,000 of these filers paid an average $25,000 in property taxes. In Westchester, home to the nation’s highest property taxes, the wealthiest residents paid about an average $65,000 in state and local income taxes and $28,000 in real estate taxes.
In the fourth quarter of 2019, Westchester homeowners cut an average of 4.1% from their last asking price to sell their homes, according to a report last week, a sign that sellers have to slash prices to attract to buyers. The price cuts were the most for any three-month period since the end of 2014, according to a the report by appraiser Miller Samuel Inc. and brokerage Douglas Elliman Real Estate.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo who has called the SALT limits “politically diabolical,” has warned that capping the deduction encourages high-income New Yorkers to leave.
“Tax the rich, tax the rich, tax the rich. We did. Now, God forbid the rich leave,” Cuomo said last year.
The codes, most of them passed since June, are meant to keep builders from running natural gas lines to new homes and apartments, with an eye toward creating fewer legacy gas hookups as the nation shifts to carbon-neutral energy sources.
For proponents, it’s a change that must be made to fight climate change. For natural gas companies, it’s a threat to their existence. And for some cooks who love to prepare food with flame, it’s an unthinkable loss.
“There’s no pathway to stabilizing the climate without phasing gas out of our homes and buildings. This is a must-do for the climate and a livable planet,” said Rachel Golden of the Sierra Club’s building electrification campaign.
These new building codes come as local governments work to speed the transition from natural gas and other fossil fuels and toward the use of electricity from renewables, said Robert Jackson, a professor of energy and the environment at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.
it’s important to check your house for air flow indoors or add a gas fitter chelmer to avoid allergies at home.
“Every house, every high-rise that’s built with gas, may be in place for decades. We’re establishing infrastructure that may be in place for 50 years,” he said.
These “reach” or “stretch” building codes, as they are known, have so far all been passed in California. The first was in Berkeley in July, then more in Northern California and recently Santa Monica in Southern California. Other cities in Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington state are contemplating them, according to the Sierra Club.
Some of the cities ban natural gas hookups to new construction. Others offer builders incentives if they go all-electric, much the same as they might get to take up more space on a lot if a house is extra energy-efficient. In April, Sunnyvale, a town in Silicon Valley, changed its building code to offer a density bonus to all-electric developments.
No more gas stoves?
The building codes apply only to new construction beginning in 2020, so they aren’t an issue for anyone in an already-built home.
Probably the biggest stumbling block for most pondering an all-electric home is the prospect of not having a gas stove.
“It’s the only thing that people ever ask about,” said Bruce Nilles, who directs the building electrification program of the Rocky Mountain Institute, a Colorado-based think tank that focuses on energy and resource efficiency.
Roughly 35% of U.S. households have a gas stove, while 55%have electric, according to a 2017 kitchen audit by the NPD Group, a global information company based in Port Washington, New York.
For at least a quarter of Americans, it doesn’t matter either way. They already live in houses that are all-electric, and their numbers are rising, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That’s especially true in the Southeast, where close to 45% of homes are all-electric.
For the rest of the nation, natural gas is used to heat buildings and water, dry clothes and cook food, according to the EIA. That represents 17% of national natural gas usage.
But the number of natural gas customers is also rising. The American Gas Association, which represents more than 200 local energy companies, says an average of one new customer is added every minute.
“That’s exactly the wrong direction,” Nilles said.
States weigh climate change solutions
The nudge toward all-electric buildings is the type of shift Americans will begin to experience more and more in coming years. Last year, California’s governor signed an executive order directing state agencies to work toward making the entire state economy carbon-neutral by 2045.
California is not alone. New York, Hawaii, Colorado and Maine have economywide carbon-neutrality goals, and several more are debating them. More than 140 U.S. cities have committed to transitioning to carbon-neutral energy.
The natural gas industry rejects the notion that it should not be part of the nation’s energy future.
“The idea that denying access to natural gas in new homes is necessary to meet emissions reduction goals is false. In fact, denying access to natural gas could make meeting emissions goals harder and more expensive,” said American Gas Association President and CEO Karen Harbert.
The association calls the new zoning codes for new construction burdensome to consumers and to the economy. They also say it’s more expensive to run an all-electric home. A study by AGA released last year suggested that all-electric homes would pay $750 to $910 a year more for energy-related costs, as well as amortized appliance and upgrade costs.
But critics question AGA’s conclusions.
Amanda Myers, a policy analyst at Energy Innovation, a research nonprofit group focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, said AGA presumed high electricity rates because of unrealistically large increases in expected electricity use and made unusual assumptions for how any anticipated electric load growth might be met.
An analysis last year by the Rocky Mountain Institute found that in locations as diverse as Chicago, Houston and Providence, Rhode Island, all-electric new homes over a 15-year time frame could save residents as much as $260 a year compared with new homes with air conditioners powered by electricity and natural gas.
You’ll pry my cold, dead hands off my gas range
The selling point for getting away from natural gas may come from a type of electric range that, according to chefs, is just as good if not better than gas. As fundamentally attached as people might be to cooking with fire, induction stoves are making headway.
Long popular in Europe and increasingly trendy in the United States, induction cooktops are different from the kind of traditional electric range where coils become red-hot. Induction ranges use electromagnetic energy to directly heat pots and pans.
They are fast, energy-efficient and safe because there’s no open flame, and they are cool to the touch unless you’re a piece of metal.
As Reviewed.com puts it, they’re “gentle enough to melt butter and chocolate, but powerful enough to bring 48 ounces of water to a boil in under three minutes.”
The downsides are that induction cooktops are more expensive than traditional electric stoves, generally a third to half more. They also work only with pans with steel or iron bottoms.
Professional chefs say modern induction ranges are comparable to gas. The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, America’s preeminent cooking school, trains its chefs on both induction and gas stoves because they will encounter both types and must know how to use them.
“Some of the finest restaurants in Europe are often out in mountainous areas or places where there isn’t gas. They cook on induction and that works just fine,” said Mark Erickson, a certified master chef at the institute.
Regular electric stoves aren’t a deal-breaker either, said Erickson, who lives in a townhouse with one and cooks on it every night.
“If I were given the chance and if it were a choice of gas or electric, I would choose gas because it’s what I’m used to,” he said. “But in all honesty, it’s not the end of the world.”