San Jose Sets Strict Large-City Emission Codes


In a unanimous vote by San Jose City Council last month, the city has agreed to adopt new building sustainability standards, also known as “reach codes.”

The new ordinance makes the nation’s 10th-largest city the strongest amongst large cities regarding zero-emission electric buildings as the new standard.

About ‘Reach Codes’

Given the name for the fact that the new building codes “reach” beyond what the state of California is currently enacting to develop clean-energy regulations, San Jose’s “reach codes” aim to ban natural gas in new construction, as well as adopt all-electrification requirements on new residential buildings.

“We are providing an example of the kind of concrete action that we can take today to confront a climate emergency and send a clear signal ... about our commitment to preserving our planet,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said in a press conference.

“We are showing here through community leadership how we can confront this climate crisis, a crisis that has been largely ignored with the abdication of federal responsibility on this issue.”

Specifically, in high-rise and commercial buildings, the new code encourages that construction efforts are fully powered by electricity, with some flexibility to build with gas. However, developers might also have to opt for electric appliances or other infrastructure—in order to easily switch to electric appliances later—in single-family homes, backyard cottages, low-rise buildings, apartments and condos.

According to the San Jose Inside, these changes to the city’s current building codes could result in a 90% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions correlated with new building construction, in addition to saving owners and tenants money on utility bills.

But that’s not all: The reach codes also call for significant electric vehicle charging infrastructure requirements so that EV owners can more easily charge their cars when parked at home, at the workplace or elsewhere in the city. Already reported to have the biggest EV market in the United States, the EV code adoption aims to encourage more San Jose residents to purchase EV vehicles as charging stations will be more easily accessible.

Once passed, all new multi-family buildings will have to allot for 70% of EV-capable spaces, at least 20% of EV-ready spaces and 10% full EV service equipment spaces within their parking lots.

Additionally, the reach codes also require that homes and other buildings are prepped for future installation of solar photovoltaic technology.

As reported by the Natural Resources Defense Council, last year the city council approved a climate action plan—Climate Smart San Jose—in order to fulfill the goals, set by the international Paris Climate Agreement.

In adopting these climate-conscious changes that respect the agreement and applying them to the city’s building codes, Liccardo is also ensuring affordability by researching all available and new incentives for the electricity focuses, in addition to exemptions on the EV infrastructure requirements.

What Happens Next

Following the council’s approval, city officials submitted the new reach code proposals to the California Energy Commission and need to file them with the Building Standards Commission prior to the end of the year.

The building codes are set to go into effect by 2020.

In following suit with becoming a greener city, San Jose lawmakers also declared a climate emergency with resolutions to make the city 100% carbon-free power within the next two years. The plan is expected to be achieved though the San Jose Clean Energy local power plan.

Recent Green Building Codes

As early as 2017, Ontario announced that its building codes were set to bring existing buildings closer to net-zero energy usage. Those codes took effect this past January.

In August 2018, Boston introduced a proposal that incentivizes developers to incorporate more net-zero designs in the city’s building boom. Mayor Martin J. Walsh also set a goal for Boston to be carbon neutral by 2050.

By the end of 2018, during Toronto’s Buildings Show, engineer Gerald Genge spoke on the changes that Canada would be adopting in its National Building Code for 2020 and beyond. The codes were reported to now be based on predictive data instead of historic data, an approach that was found to be problematic by an auditor general’s report in 2016.

In March 2019, The National Institute of Building Sciences and the New Buildings Institute, along with support from the U.S. Department of Energy and the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, announced that they had developed a new tool to aid municipalities deal with energy use in buildings.

The tool, dubbed the “Life-Cycle Energy Performance Framework for Cities,” is available on the NIBS’ Whole Building Design Guide web portal, and gives users the opportunity to customize their own path to implement life-cycle-based energy policies and gather tracking reports.

In May 2019, Nebraska lawmakers introduced a bill, updating its 2009 International Energy Conservation Code to the IECC 2018 version, giving the state the strongest efficiency codes in the Midwest.

A month later, New York City passed Senate Bill S6599, setting a net-zero emissions economy goal by 2050. The legislation followed the city’s $14 billion “New Green Deal” announcement in April, which aimed to reduce the city’s greenhouse emissions by 30% by 2030. The plan is outlined in the city’s report, “OneNYC 2050: Building a Strong and Fair City.”


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