CA City Gas Ban Impacts Building Construction


On Tuesday (Nov. 17), San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a new city ordinance, banning the use natural gas or other fossil fuels in all new residential and commercial building construction projects.

The decision makes San Francisco the latest—and possibly the largest—U.S. city to ban natural gas in new buildings to date.

"San Francisco has taken climate change seriously for a long time and today—on the heels of yet another catastrophic fire season, a record string of unhealthier days, extreme heat waves, and even a day when the sun didn't come up—we San Franciscans have an opportunity to make one more incremental but important move to help save our planet," District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman said in the meeting.

All-Electric Construction

According to Mandelman, the vote arrives after almost a year of deliberation with the Zero Emissions Building Taskforce, which brought together affordable housing and mixed-use developers, architects and engineers, labor and building trades and community advocates to write the legislation.

The new ordinance complements legislation the city passed last year, transitioning private commercial buildings of 50,000 square feet and larger to 100% renewable electricity by 2030.

The legislation was part of Mayor London N. Breed’s vision of an “all-electric City” in which 100% renewable electricity replaces the use of fossil fuels in the building and transportation sectors. According to the mayor’s news release, roughly half of the city’s emissions come from buildings, and a significant portion of those emissions are released from the commercial sector.

Breed first unveiled the plan amending San Francisco’s existing environment code for all non-residential buildings on Earth Day in April 2019—a plan similar to New York City’s Climate Leadership Bill. However, instead of cutting emissions from the city’s largest buildings, San Francisco would opt to specifically require buildings to run on electricity generated by 100% renewables, a first for U.S. cities.

In implementing the new legislation, the city is expected to reduce 21% of emissions from commercial buildings by 2030, when the entire city aims to run on 100% renewable electricity. Of the city’s total emissions, buildings and transportation are estimated to make up about 90%, respectively.

Because the plan is based on a building’s size, the timeline to go fully renewable is as follows:

  • By 2022 — commercial buildings over 500,000 square feet;
  • By 2024 — commercial buildings over 250,000 square feet; and,
  • By 2030 — commercial buildings over 50,000 square feet.

At the time the legislation was approved, San Francisco reported that the city had already reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 36% in comparison to its 1990 levels. San Francisco was also ranked as one of the top five cities for clean energy in July 2019 by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a nonprofit that promotes efficient energy policies.

However, according to the California Air Resources Board, residential and commercial buildings are still responsible for roughly 25% of California’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Reports indicate that the latest ordinance banning natural gas is just the latest in the state’s nearly 40 cities to pass such ordinances since Berkeley's historic ban on natural gas infrastructure July 2019. In citing the potential cost savings, public health benefits and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, experts believe that soon, similar legislation from cities such as Los Angeles could follow, and possibly, Gov. Gavin Newsom could push a statewide action.

The new ordinance requires that these projects adopt all-electric power, starting in June 2021, and plans to cover about 60% of the city’s current development pipeline in an effort to reduce carbon emissions and tackle climate change. However, an amendment to the ordinance allows restaurants to apply for a waiver through the end of 2022 to use a natural gas stove.

Previous Emission Codes

Around the same time that San Francisco made its announcement regarding 100% renewable electricity by 2030, San Jose City Council also unanimously approved 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 and aims to ban natural gas in new construction, as well as adopt all-electrification requirements on new residential buildings.

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.

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.

However, green building code initiatives go back to as early as 2017, with Ontario announcing that its building codes were set to bring existing buildings closer to net-zero energy usage. Those codes took effect in January 2019.

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 in dealing 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.”


Tagged categories: Building codes; Building operations; Commercial Buildings; Commercial Construction; Condominiums/High-Rise Residential; Emissions; Good Technical Practice; Government; Greenhouse gas; NA; North America; Oil and Gas; Residential; Residential Construction

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