New Report Shows Heating Equipment in Buildings Major Source of Outdoor Air Pollution: Despite Increasing Harm to Climate and Public Health, Building Pollution Remains Largely Unregulated


September 27, 2023


Shannon Van Hoesen,

Jama Joseph, 



Washington, DC – A new report released by Sierra Club, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and WE ACT for Environmental Justice demonstrates the climate, health, and environmental justice concerns posed by outdoor air pollution from buildings, a source that is largely overlooked and unregulated. 

The Outdoor Pollution Is Coming From Inside The House: National Building Pollution Report” compiles data from across government and expert sources showing the extent of the harm caused to people and the climate from fossil fuel burning space and water heating equipment like HVAC systems, furnaces, boilers, and water heaters. 

“We are at a moment where there is a recognition that we must reduce air and climate pollution. Yet, we have a major source of pollution that is literally right at our doorsteps that policymakers are not doing enough to address. The fossil fuel industry has worked hard to keep us burning gas, propane, and oil under our roofs, all the while ignoring the impacts on our health and the climate,” said Sierra Club Building Electrification Campaign Deputy Director Amneh Minkara, the lead author of the report. “This new report makes it abundantly clear that we must use all the tools at our disposal to help households switch to clean, efficient electric space and water heating.” 

Burning fossil fuels for space and water heating emits health-harming and climate-disrupting pollution, including nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), fine particulate matter (PM2.5), and carbon dioxide (CO2).  The negative outcomes caused by this pollution disproportionately burdens vulnerable populations including children, the elderly, low income communities, communities of color, renters, and individuals with pre-existing health conditions. 

“Our communities face unrelenting pollution both inside and outside our homes,” says Annika Larson, Federal Policy Associate at WE ACT for Environmental Justice. “We produce less pollution, but we bear its harshest consequences because of substandard housing and environmental conditions. This recent report emphasizes that pollution from fossil-fuel home equipment is a major climate and health threat, further deepening environmental injustices. The message is clear: building decarbonization must prioritize our communities.”

“These are pollutants that are damaging people’s lungs, hearts and brains. They really need to be brought under control,” said Barbara Gottlieb, national Environment & Health Program Director for Physicians for Social Responsibility.  “It’s time to get these fossil-fueled polluters out of our buildings and communities. As health professionals, we call for replacing them with clean electric-powered space and water heaters. We’ll get cleaner air and better health as a result.”

  Global pollution from the building sector hit a record high in 2022. In the United States, buildings now account for about 40% of total energy consumption and 9% of direct greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution. Although lighting, electronic devices, and most cooling equipment are powered by electricity, the majority of U.S. buildings still burn fossil fuels to power heating equipment like water heaters and furnaces. The most recent updates to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) public health and climate pollution inventories show that emissions of harmful pollutants from the building sector – like NOx and CO2 – continue to increase. 

August marked one year since Sierra Club and 25 other organizations petitioned the EPA to regulate outdoor air emissions from buildings and set zero-NOx standards for appliances. The agency has not yet responded to that petition. 

State and local governments are beginning to take action to address building pollution, and initial funding solutions from the federal government, like the Inflation Reduction Act’s Home Energy Rebates Program, are beginning to roll out to support the transition to zero-pollution technology. However, more action is needed for the country to meet climate, public health, and justice goals. For that reason, this new report concludes with a policy menu of local, state, and federal policy actions that could help reduce climate-warming and health-harming pollution. 


WE ACT for Environmental Justice is a Northern Manhattan membership-based organization whose mission is to build healthy communities by ensuring that people of color and/or low-income residents participate meaningfully in the creation of sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices. WE ACT has offices in New York and Washington, D.C. Visit us at and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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