Improving Building Envelope Efficiency Lowers Costs and Emissions from Rural Residential Heating in China

Publication Year


Magazine Article

In 2017, the Chinese government launched a clean heating campaign that replaced millions of rural coal stoves with various clean heaters. The clean heating program contributed to remarkable improvements in air quality. However, the benefits of reducing heating demand by improving building envelope efficiency were not sufficiently considered. This study provides a needed quantitative assessment of potential energy-savings, costs, greenhouse gas emission reductions, and adoption strategies for improving building envelope efficiency in Chinese rural residential buildings. We find that different strategies must be employed in existing and new buildings to achieve desired outcomes. For existing buildings, to encourage easy and beneficial building retrofits (e.g., air sealing, efficient windows), current fuel subsidies should be replaced with retrofit subsidies. Building retrofits can reduce the size and hence capital costs of new clean heaters. They can also reduce operating costs, hence reducing the likelihood of backsliding to coal. For new construction, whole-home insulation and heat pumps would best avoid carbon lock-in. These efficient technologies have high upfront costs but decrease heating costs and significantly reduce carbon emissions relative to current policies. Hence, subsidies and policies that encourage improvements in building envelopes as well as the uptake of clean and efficient heaters are critical.

Environmental Science Technology