Decarbonization in Affordable Housing

As the threat of climate change becomes more dire, so too does the need for decarbonization in affordable housing; decarbonization refers to the process of transitioning buildings to all-electric power in combination with renewable or carbon-free energy sources.

In California, there are over 3 million low-income renters living in multifamily housing; to adequately meet our state’s housing needs, a projected 1.2 million additional low-income homes still need to be built. Over the past couple of years, many local and state agencies have passed all-electric or near-all-electric building standards in an effort to meet California’s climate goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, however, there are some specific challenges when it comes to integrating building decarbonization solutions in the affordable housing industry.


Electrification and employing building decarbonization solutions are essential in combating climate change. Residential buildings alone account for up to 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.; although there’s an increasing push for green practices in buildings and retrofits, owners, developers, and managers in the affordable housing industry have largely been left in terms of guidance on how to implement sustainable changes.

Some of the challenges of decarbonization in affordable housing include:

  • Affordable housing developers typically work under tight margins to keep rents low.
  • Passing the cost of upgrades to residents with already low incomes isn’t an option.
  • Affordable housing owners may face significant penalties if they can’t meet efficiency standards enacted in some municipalities.


There are two primary ways to overcome these challenges. The first is to move towards the electrification of existing buildings. This involves replacing fossil-fuel-based (ex: natural gas, oil, and coal) power and appliances from homes with all-electric water heaters, heating and cooling, stoves, and laundry machines. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has found that electrification, even without a low-carbon electric grid, can reduce emissions by approximately 40%. Affordable housing buildings also need to reduce energy usage; this can be achieved by implementing building-wide energy-efficiency upgrades as well as installing high-efficiency all-electric appliances like heat pumps and induction stoves.

Developers should also transition to utilizing all-electric power and green building methods for all new construction projects, as it’s much more cost-effective and efficient to implement these at the planning and building stage than it is to retrofit existing buildings years later. Two ways this can be accomplished are by ensuring the building shell, equipment, and systems are as energy-efficient as possible and by using scrap, recycled, and high-performance materials to reduce embodied carbon.

Not only will reducing energy use reduce emissions, but it will also lessen the energy burdens for owners of multifamily housing and their renters. Residents will also enjoy improved health, safety, and resilience.


Although there are challenges for developers and owners in the affordable housing industry, Gilleran Energy Management can help you overcome them. Founded in 2002, we provide comprehensive consulting services for the affordable housing sector. From existing buildings to new builds, our experienced consultants stay abreast of the latest developments in the industry and have expertise in utility allowance calculation (CUAC), tenant utility allowance, the 45L federal tax credit, green building certification programs, ASHRAE auditing, and more.

We also offer evaluations of new affordable housing projects for the California Energy Commission’s new BUILD all-electric low-emissions development program Energy-Smart Homes program. We can also help you understand how the latest update to the 2022 Energy & Green Building Codes may affect your upcoming projects. For more information about how we can help you achieve your decarbonization goals, schedule a consultation at (707) 528-7318 or email us at

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