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Cornerstone 2: Homes, Buildings, Landscaping and Cars of the Future

This is Volume 3 in our series of newsletters exploring the Your Utah, Your Future Vision for 2050.

There are four core strategies (we call them cornerstones) for implementing the vision for Utah's future. 

While Implementation Cornerstone 1 deals with how our communities and urban areas are organized, this cornerstone concerns the kinds of homes, buildings, landscaping, and vehicles that make up those communities. Technologies and efficiencies exist today, and are improving every year, that can reduce air pollution; save money; make our homes, buildings, and infrastructure more resilient to disasters; and conserve water.

You can read more at envisionutah.org.

Homes, buildings, landscaping, and cars of the future will have the following characteristics:

Energy Efficient and Low-Emission Homes and Buildings

As we double the number of homes and buildings by 2050, they are poised to become the dominant source of air pollution, making it difficult for the Wasatch Front and Back to remain in compliance with air-quality standards long term. But the technology exists today to solve this problem. Better-insulated walls, roofs, and windows for our homes and other buildings, along with energy-efficient appliances (e.g., furnaces, water heaters, and air conditioners) use less energy, which means they produce less air pollution. Greater energy efficiency also reduces electrical and natural gas bills. In addition, many appliances, like water heaters, have ultra-low emission models that don't cost much more than comparable standard-emission appliances. Building new homes with thicker walls, better windows, and proper insulation is essential for maintaining energy efficiency. If a home is built with a poorly insulated shell, it is nearly impossible to retrofit it to the level required for Utah to be in compliance with air-quality standards over the long term.

Disaster Resilient Homes, Buildings, and Infrastructure

Our homes are not built to survive an earthquake. Utah’s current building code is designed to protect human life but not to ensure the habitability of the home after an earthquake. Constructing new homes and other buildings to a higher earthquake standard means that fewer families will be displaced after a disaster and fewer companies will be forced out of their places of business. Many Utah communities have older homes and buildings that are unreinforced masonry buildings (URMs), with walls made from just brick or stone. These URMs are very vulnerable to collapse in the event of an earthquake, and most deaths and injuries in a major earthquake will occur in these buildings. Existing URMs can be retrofitted to reduce injuries and deaths. Moreover, infrastructure—including roads, power lines, and pipes for water, gas, and sewage—can be upgraded or replaced to increase their ability to withstand a disaster, thereby reducing the chances that residents will be without transportation access and utilities.

Low-Emission or Electric Vehicles

Although most air pollutants in the future will come from buildings, most of Utah’s air pollution today comes from cars and trucks. All vehicles have a smog rating assigned to them based on the amount of pollutants they emit from their tailpipes. The scale ranges from one (high-emitting vehicles) to ten (zero-emitting vehicles). Right now, the typical car sold in Utah has a smog rating of six, though vehicles with higher smog ratings are becoming widely available. Improving the average rating only two levels, from six to eight, would represent a 73% decrease in tailpipe emissions with almost no cost increase for consumers. Currently, electric cars are the most viable zero-emission vehicles. By switching to lower-emission and electric vehicles, total vehicle emissions will drop dramatically, even as the number of vehicles on the road increases. The sooner we change what we drive, the sooner we’ll have cleaner air.

Low-Sulfur Fuels

Lowering the amount of sulfur in gasoline and diesel results in decreased tailpipe emissions in all vehicles that run on these fuels. Most of Utah’s fuel is refined locally, so for consumers to have the opportunity to buy lower-sulfur fuel in Utah, local refineries will need to start producing it. Retooling refineries to produce cleaner fuels is expensive, but it is necessary if we want Utah to comply with air quality standards in the long term. Though these fuels work best in low-emission cars, emissions from every vehicle will be substantially reduced by using low-sulfur fuels.

Water-Wise Yards, Parks, and Commercial Landscaping

Lawns consume the majority of the water used by the average Utah household. Using more low-water and drought-tolerant plants, which fit more naturally in Utah’s climate and environment, reduces the need to water lawns, as well as parks and other landscaping. Conserving water through our landscaping will ensure more water is available for other needs, such as growing food and maintaining flows in rivers and lakes to protect recreation and habitat areas.