CA Adopts Electric-Focused Building Codes


The California Energy Commission recently announced its adoption of the 2022 Building Energy Efficiency Standards (Energy Code) for newly constructed and renovated buildings.

The new energy codes are slated to produce benefits to support the state’s public health, climate and clean energy goals.

“Buildings profoundly influence our health, environment and economy. Into the future they will use less energy and emit less pollution while still being comfortable and healthy,” said Commissioner J. Andrew McAllister, who is the lead commissioner on energy efficiency.

“The 2022 Energy Code firmly pivots California’s buildings toward the clean, low-carbon technologies that are the bedrock on which our collective path forward will rest. This foundation will help the state meet its critical long-term climate and carbon neutrality goals.”

The CEC reportedly adopts standards every three years to cost-effectively increase the energy efficiency and lower the carbon footprint of buildings. In California, homes and businesses use nearly 70% of California’s electricity and are responsible for a quarter of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Taking an approach on a potentially all-electric future, the 2022 Energy Code focuses on four key areas in newly constructed homes and businesses:

  • Encouraging electric heat pump technology for space and water heating, which consumes less energy and produces fewer emissions than gas-powered units;
  • Establishing electric-ready requirements for single-family homes to position owners to use cleaner electric heating, cooking and electric vehicle (EV) charging options whenever they choose to adopt those technologies;
  • Expanding solar photovoltaic (PV) system and battery storage standards to make clean energy available onsite and complement the state’s progress toward a 100 percent clean electricity grid; and
  • Strengthening ventilation standards to improve indoor air quality.

In addition, each updated code guides the construction of buildings to better withstand extreme weather, lower energy costs and reduce climate and air pollution.

According to reports, the latest updates will nearly end building’s dependence on fossil fuels moving forward.

The 2022 update is slated to be submitted to the California Building Standards Commission, where it is scheduled to be considered sometime in December. If approved by the CBSC, the update would go into effect on January 1, 2023, giving builders, contractors and other interested parties a year to gear up for the changes.

Over the next 30 years, the 2022 Energy Code is estimated to provide $1.5 billion in consumer benefits and reduce 10 million metric tons of GHGs (equivalent to taking nearly 2.2 million cars off the road for a year).

Recent CA Gas Ban

Last November, 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.

At the time of the decision, San Francisco was the latest—and possibly the largest—U.S. city to ban natural gas in new buildings to date.

According to Mandelman, the vote arrived 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 recent 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.

Other Electrification & New Energy 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. With San Jose 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.

More recently, in February, Seattle City Council unanimously approved Commercial Energy Code updates set forth by Mayor Jenny Durkan that seek to advance electrification throughout the commercial and residential building sectors.

The new ordinance bans natural gas for space heating in new construction of commercial and multi-family residential buildings that are taller than three stories.

Durkan proposed the legislation in mid-January and is part of a broader city effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions—including a carbon neutral goal by 2050. The code does not extend to construction of single-family homes, which have energy codes set by the state that continue to allow natural gas for heat, however.

In spring of 2020, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen voted (via teleconference) to pass the new Building Energy Performance Standards ordinance, which sets new energy standards to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions.

The mandate, signed by Mayor Lyda Krewson, sets energy usage requirements for commercial, institutional, municipal and multi-family buildings that are 50,000 square feet or larger.

According to Catherine Werner, Director of St. Louis Sustainability, large buildings make up about 80% of the city’s total greenhouse gas emissions, which is why they were targeted by the new regulations.

The ordinance also established a Building Energy Improvement Board (made up of nine members representing utilities, labor, affordable housing owners, tenants and commercial buildings), to review the energy usage for buildings with the goal of reviewing and updating the standards every four years.

The city as a whole has a goal of eliminating community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Around the same time, New York City passed the 2020 NYC Energy Conservation Code, which requires all new and existing buildings to meet stricter energy efficiency requirements under the Energy Conservation Construction Code.

The new code requires several mandates—many of which focusing around building envelopes—including:

  • Improve the building thermal envelope with better performing walls and windows;
  • Seal and test the building envelope to minimize and control air leakage;
  • Require balconies and parapets to be continuously insulated;
  • Identify thermal bridging elements in the building envelope;
  • Meet minimum energy efficiency requirements for heating and cooling systems;
  • Require more efficient interior lighting and additional lighting controls;
  • Perform commissioning on more HVAC alteration projects;
  • Require efficiency measures on new elevators and commercial kitchen equipment;
  • Require the infrastructure for the future installation of electric vehicle chargers in one- and two-family homes;
  • Require whole building metering for new buildings greater than 25,000 square feet;
  • Allow source energy as a metric, instead of energy cost, for buildings choosing to comply with energy modeling; and
  • Require additional thermal envelope performance requirements for buildings choosing to comply with energy modeling.

According to a press release from the governor’s office, the 2020 NYC Energy Conservation Code is just one of the New York City Construction Codes being updated by the Department of Buildings as part of the ongoing Code Revision Cycle.

The 2020 NYC Energy Conservation Code went into effect on May 12, 2020.


Tagged categories: Building codes; Commercial / Architectural; Commercial Buildings; Commercial Construction; Energy codes; Good Technical Practice; NA; North America; Projects - Commercial; Renovation; Residential Construction

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