Changes at Home Could Make a Big Difference in Air Quality

New Utah Foundation LogoPrevious efforts to improve Utah’s notorious winter air quality have focused on reducing pollution from vehicles (mobile sources) and industry (point sources). But a new Utah Foundation study Bringing Air Quality Home: Reducing Residential Emissions shows a focus on widely distributed area sources, including home appliances such as water heaters, could result in significant improvements as well.

Bringing building codes up to current standards, including a requirement for ultra-low NOx water heaters in new construction, could go a long way toward reducing the number of days the air in Wasatch Front counties exceeds federal pollution standards. NOx, or nitrogen oxides, are produced when natural gas is burned in water heaters or furnaces. A chemical reaction converts NOx gases into the microscopic PM 2.5 particles that make the air unhealthy during inversion periods. Ultra-low NOx water heaters produce about one-quarter of the nitrogen oxide emissions of standard models.

Turning down thermostats and reducing wood burning are other strategies that could reduce pollution from homes and small businesses in areas of Utah vulnerable to periods of extreme pollution in the winter.

Key findings of the report include:

  • Updating Utah’s building code will save buyers of newly built homes an estimated $3,750 over the course of 30 years.
  • Were ultra-low NOx water heaters the standard between 2012 and 2014, there would have been 10 fewer instances of PM 2.5 pollution exceeding federal guidelines, a 20% reduction.
  • Up to 70% of the ambient levels of wood smoke from your neighborhood can wind up inside your home.

“Homebuilders might be more supportive of energy efficient houses if consumers demanded them,” said Utah Foundation Research Analyst Christopher Collard, the main author of the report. “Making the benefits of energy efficient homes easily accessible and understandable would go a long way to increasing the demand for these homes”

Collard added, “If someone bought a home that meets the latest efficiency standard, they would save $300 more in utility costs than their neighbor who has the current standard.”

The research report Bringing Air Quality Home: Reducing Residential Emissions is available on the Utah Foundation website, along with previous reports on topics as diverse as taxes, education performance and funding, environmental and population issues and driving safety.