California may require homeowners to replace their broken air conditioning units with heat pumps or more efficient HVAC systems beginning in 2026, draft rules released last month by state energy regulators show.
Encouraging the adoption of heat pumps, which both cool and heat homes using electricity, is key to the state’s carbon neutrality goals. The California Energy Commission aims to quadruple the number of homes with heat pumps to 6 million by 2030.
If the 600-page draft code is approved next year, California would be the first state to require broken A/C units be replaced with heat pumps or more efficient systems. Environmental groups are encouraged, saying the regulation would cut emissions and save homeowners money.
“This is a very important step,” said Merrian Borgeson, director of California climate and clean energy at Natural Resources Defense Council. “The CEC knows that it doesn’t make sense anymore to install only A/C. This gets heat pumps out en masse and gives people the option to turn off their gas furnace, or just get off it entirely.”
Heat pumps are nearly identical to central air conditioners but use a reversing valve to provide both cooling and heating. Because they run on electricity and eliminate the need for gas furnaces, climate experts say they are the most cost and energy efficient way to cut emissions.
The draft regulation doesn’t outright ban traditional air conditioning units or require homeowners to remove their gas furnaces when a unit breaks. Instead, they require a contractor to either install a heat pump or make additional efficiency improvements to the A/C unit spelled out in the regulation.
Californians would face some higher costs under this rule. Installing a new heat pump costs $5,500 on average, according to an industry estimate.
While that’s comparable to the average cost of a new traditional air conditioning system — $5,907, according to home repair website Angi — a heat pump is more expensive than repairing a broken air conditioning unit.
That said, a range of government subsidies could help. Under the federal 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, heat pumps are eligible for a federal tax credit of $2,000 and rebates for home greening can reach as high as $8,000.
Local utilities also offer rebates for heat pumps across the state, including the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which gives homeowners up to $3,500 for installation by a qualifying contractor.
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