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ACEEE Report: Options for Decarbonizing Residential Space Heating in Cold Climates



This study calculated the total cost of installing and operating different heating systems in homes that currently use gas furnaces or boilers.

A previous ACEEE study examined all the individual homes in the 2015 Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS) and found that on average for 1–4 family buildings, the lowest-cost decarbonization option was an air-source heat pump powered by a clean electric grid for locations below 6,000 heating degree days (HDD). Above 6,000 HDD, the low-cost option was a hybrid system that combines a cold climate heat pump with a fuel-fired backup system. 

Our new study expands this analysis by looking individually at homes in the 2020 RECS data set and adding scenarios that examine the impact of electrification and gas pipe replacement on gas distribution costs, adding ground-source heat pumps, and delving into multiple hybrid heating options for cold climates. We focus on existing homes and assume that they need to install a new heating system in 2030 when their existing heating system reaches end-of-life.

Overall, we find that electrification of most space heating is possible and can be cost effective in even cold climates. However, some use of biofuels can be useful as a backup to reduce consumer life-cycle space heating costs and to keep winter peak electric demand from rising too fast. It is essential to note that while useful, biofuels do not reduce greenhouse gas emissions as much as electric heat pumps with a low-carbon electricity supply.

View and download the report

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