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Clean energy homes cut energy bills and pollution. So why is it so hard to buy one in Nevada?

Paul Selberg
Paul Selberg
Opinion
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Last year I set out  to make my dream of homeownership come true — and to find a clean energy home in Nevada.

Clean energy homes, which pair highly efficient electric appliances with rooftop solar, are quickly becoming staples across the United States, as homebuyers are lured by the significant economic, air quality and climate benefits. Glenn Kelman, CEO of real estate powerhouse Redfin, recently declared that 2022 would be the year of the all-electric home, and that our use of fossil fuels for cooking and heating will soon be a thing of the past.

So how difficult could it be to buy a clean energy home in Nevada?

Quite difficult, it turns out — almost from the get-go, my realtor and I ran into challenges. We began by scouring the area for existing clean energy homes, and found very few on the market. The red-hot real estate market in Southern Nevada also means that many homes are snapped up almost as soon as they are listed.

Feeling discouraged but far from defeated, we turned to building a new home from the ground up, and began reaching out to contractors. You might think that building a home would allow the homebuyer to choose all electric appliances if they’d like. Unfortunately, that’s often not the case.

Many home builders across Nevada work with a set of three to four home designs that prospective homebuyers can choose from — an understandable choice that delivers real economic benefits for both builders and homebuyers. But much to my dismay, most new homes in Nevada do not offer a clean-energy design option, even though these homes could actually be more affordable to build and operate. 

Building without the expensive piping that connects new homes to the gas system can shave $4,000 to $5,000 off of the cost, according to a new study by the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project. Newer electric technologies like induction cooktops and heat pump water heaters and space heaters perform just as well or better than their gas counterparts. And all-electric new homes are cheaper to build and operate in the Southwest, with lower utility bills leading to significant long-term savings. 

In addition to the financial benefits, a clean energy home is much healthier and more environmentally friendly. For new homes and retrofits in Nevada, using efficient electric heat pump technology will result in 50-60% reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Gas is a powerful fossil fuel, and when burned indoors it can create dangerous levels of air pollution. It’s no wonder that more and more homeowners are interested in these options once they learn about them.

Fortunately, the builder I chose, Lennar, did offer an option to build with rooftop solar and an electric vehicle charging station, showing that growing demand for more sustainable living is having an impact on the options available. Unfortunately, they do not offer a gas-free design. That means that to wind up with a clean energy home, I have to build with gas, and then immediately retrofit my brand new home to run on clean electricity. Instead of saving money, this will add thousands of dollars in additional costs that could have easily been avoided by building gas-free from the get-go. 

It shouldn’t be this difficult to choose electric appliances. Gas companies have used aggressive marketing to build and maintain demand for their products, and are now misleading people about the impacts of the fossil fuel they sell. They have also blocked cleaner building codes and passed laws in other states to restrict customer choices. 

With consumer interest skyrocketing, builders must expand the number of clean energy homes on the market. This effort can deliver major economic benefits for our state, which is struggling to provide affordable housing. According to a recent analysis from Rewiring America, Nevada households would save up to $342 per year on their energy bills by using modern, electric appliances

Nevada policymakers have taken action to ensure our buildings are more water and energy smart, but more can be done. Right now, Clark County, home to roughly 70% of Nevada’s population, has a key opportunity to expand access to clean energy homes through its All-In Clark County sustainability planning process. By setting standards that ensure that buildings can easily plug into our clean energy future, Clark County can cut pollution, lower utility bills, and ensure households are not saddled with expensive retrofits in coming decades to remove gas appliances, as our state charts a path to meeting its climate targets.

My long journey to homeownership is almost over — I recently got the keys to my new home and am about to move in. But we are just getting started when it comes to making clean energy homes a reality for more Nevadans. Homebuyers want to buy them, and realtors want to sell them. It’s time to address this issue for the benefit of us all.

Paul Selberg is the executive director of the Nevada Conservation League, an organization dedicated to advancing pro-conservation and environmentally focused policies.

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