Jul 30 2020

Electrical Appliances, Required Retrofits to Existing Piedmont Homes

Piedmont would become the first city in California to require existing residences to make retrofits when spending $25,000 on home improvement projects, including kitchen or bath updates.   Berkeley and San Francisco require all electric for new construction, but not for existing homes.

July 20, 2020 was the first time the Council had considered the proposed REACH CODE ordinance.

In a split vote, three City Council members, Vice Mayor Teddy King, Councilmember Jennifer Cavenaugh, and Councilmember Tim Rood, approved the first reading of the REACH energy program designed to wean Piedmonters off of natural gas.  Mayor Robert McBain and Councilmember Betsy Andersen voted against the first reading of the comprehensive ordinance.    Older buildings undergoing a major remodel or new buildings will be the most impacted by the new ordinance.   The second and final reading of the proposed ordinance was expected for August 3, 2020, however the REACH codes are not on the agenda for that meeting.

On its website for days prior to the Piedmont meeting, the Sierra Club stated,  “All Alameda County residents are urged to join this virtual public meeting to give public comment in support of this electrification ordinance. Building electrification is an essential strategy to curb climate and air pollution.”  Sierra Club speakers did participate at the July 20 meeting.  The Sierra Club opposes cooking with gas, not only in homes, but also in restaurants.

The propane gas industry sent two speakers, and various individuals who helped develop the proposed ordinance encouraged the Council to improve it or adopt the ordinance as proposed. 

One or more speakers were less enthusiastic and raised issues of costs, practicality for life conditions, and concerns over commercial and municipal property not being included.  One speaker stated, “It seems the city should start with their own facilities.” 

Councilmember Andersen questioned why the ordinance had not been reviewed by the Planning Commission stating this would give the residents of Piedmont a greater opportunity to consider and participate in the omnibus ordinance impacting Piedmont homes. Additional, information was requested regarding the cost impact to homeowners.

Mayor McBain was concerned that the $25,000 threshold for ordinance compliance was too low and suggested a higher possible $50,000 threshold.

Rood, Cavenaugh, and King praised the staff for involving the public in outreach to form the comprehensive ordinance meeting Piedmont’s Climate Action Plan goals.  There were no changes made to the proposed ordinance provisions, and the ordinance first reading was approved as proposed by the three affirmative votes.

Unresolved questions raised by the public and council were:

  • What is considered cost-effective?
  • Why wasn’t the Planning Commission asked to review the ordinance?
  • What exceptions are allowed under the ordinance?
  • Why are the exceptions not included in the ordinance?
  • Will the Planning and Building staff be making the exception decisions?
  • Was specific consideration given to Piedmont’s many older homes ill fitted for retrofits?
  • Where would the required heat pump be placed on a property?
  • What happens to homes heated by radiators or radiant heat?
  • Why are City, School, and commercial buildings excluded from the ordinance requirements?
  • Should City facilities set the example first and then require homes to comply?
  • Is a 30 year amortization period realistic for expensive energy improvements?
  • What is the expected cost for required improvements of various ages and sizes of homes?
  • Will homeowners be discouraged from making improvements because of significant added costs or evade city permits?
  • What happens if your furnace goes out in the middle of winter and you do not have time to install a required solar system?
  • How much will it cost to administer the ordinance?
  • How was it determined that $25,000 on improvements, such as a new kitchen, would trigger ordinance compliance?

READ the 2020 Ordinance 1st Reading of Ords. 750 & 751 NS Reach Codes & Energy Audit Policy

Piedmont staff described the specific proposed requirements as follows:

  • Newly constructed low-rise residential buildings, including new detached accessory dwelling units (ADUs), must use all electric building appliances.
  • Projects proposing an entire new upper level on a low-rise residential building, or that increase a low-rise residential building’s total roof area by 30% or more, are required to install solar panels on their roof.
  • A housing renovation on a low-rise residential building, that costs $25,000 or more, will require the applicant to include one item from a list of energy efficient insulation or electrification fixes (renovations of $100,000 or more must include two). Multiple items are cost-effective.

The City Council also considered other amendments to the Building Code and policy changes that, while not Reach Codes,  help reduce natural gas use. They are:

  • An application for an electrical panel upgrade must include space in the panel to accommodate future electrification of all building appliances.
  • Kitchen and laundry area renovations must include electrical outlets to allow for future electrification.
  • Requiring completion of a Home Energy Score or Audit (homeowner’s choice) when listing for sale of a property or submitting an application for a design review permit.

Proposed Title 24 amendments (“Reach Codes”), the City Council were considered at the July 20 Council meeting. The first reading was on July 20 and the second reading was expected on August 3, yet is not on the agenda. 

At its regular meeting on July 20th, the Piedmont City Council considered the first reading of an ordinance implementing reach codes, which are amendments to state’s Building Energy Efficiency Standards and state Electrical Code which are designed to promote efficient building methods in homes in Piedmont. The Council considered an ordinance requiring home energy audits under certain circumstances. Click to read the Agenda Report for this item, which includes the proposed ordinances, as well as links to background documents and details on the public outreach. The agenda report and Ordinance 750 N.S. were updated and posted effective July 15, 2020. The update includes typographical corrections in the report and the inclusion of amendments to City Code section 8.02.020 in the ordinance.

The Council was slated to take this issue up at its meeting of July 6th, but due to the importance of the issue and the lateness of the hour, decided to continue consideration to its July 20th regular meeting when a first reading of the ordinance was approved.

These measures are being proposed because Piedmont’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) 2.0 calls for the community to reduce its annual greenhouse gas emissions from the building, transportation, waste, and wastewater sectors, combined, from about 38,000 metric tons of CO2e in 2017 to just 9,800 metric tons in 2050. Currently, a large percentage of Piedmont’s emissions come from natural gas appliances in buildings, especially gas furnaces and water heaters. To meet CAP goals, the Piedmont community must decrease natural gas use in buildings by improving insulation, and by switching out natural gas appliances for electric appliances powered by renewable energy.

Read complete City of Piedmont press release here.

First Reading approved by the City Council >  – 2020 Ordinance 1st Reading of Ords. 750 & 751 NS Reach Codes & Energy Audit Policy

11 Responses to “Electrical Appliances, Required Retrofits to Existing Piedmont Homes”

  1. Will exterior painting and roof repair/replacement be considered to be retrofits?

  2. @James McCrea: my understanding is that only renovations requiring permitting would trigger the REACH codes. City staff worked hard to create a list of flexible options to improve a home’s energy efficiency that suit the individual home, including things like improving insulation. Many of these options are low-cost.

    I am very supportive of instituting these new codes as a way to encourage us all to move toward the path of home energy efficiency which is urgently needed, and I commend staff, Vice Mayor King and Council members Cavenaugh and Rood for developing and supporting them.

  3. Staff is preparing an FAQ but my guess is no. If it doesn’t exceed $25,000 then absolutely no.

    “R106.6 Renovation Energy Efficiency Upgrades
    A renovation of a low-rise residential building, with a stated project value of $25,000 or more, is required to submit documentation that one item from the following list of energy efficient measures is included in the scope of the project.

  4. Don and I agree the Energy Efficient upgrades in REACH should only be necessary upon the sale of a home with the cost being negotiated between buyer and seller.
    This upgrade goes too far when you consider the real causes of air pollution is gasoline and diesel for autos and airplanes and off gassing from oil or gas generating refineries.
    The cost burden should not be on our Piedmont home owners!

  5. I can understand requiring new electric when things must be replaced, but it seems misguided to require people to toss out perfectly good appliances and water heaters in the interest of being greener.

  6. I will be very happy if reroofing my house doesn’t cost as much as $25,000!

    Thanks both for the feedback.

  7. I am supportive of the new reach codes. Since Piedmont has very little new construction and we need to find ways to reduce our fossil fuel consumption thereby reducing our climate impacts. Requiring energy efficient improvements to residential renovations allows us a big opportunity to meet our climate goals.

  8. Much of PGE’s electricity is produced by coal and natural gas. Then there is loss as the electricity is transmitted from power plant to your home. This is a misguided attempt to help the environment. And as someone else has noted, will it require people to replace fully functional and efficient gas appliances with electrical. I love the planet too, but these rules makes little sense.

  9. Most of the proposed reach codes are intended to improve the efficiency of natural gas by requiring remodels to adopt one or two of the following in the construction:-
    – Attic insulation and duct sealing
    – Floor insulation
    – A package of low-flow fixtures and water heater/ water piping insulation
    – A package of high efficacy lighting and lighting controls for internal and external lights
    – Switch out gas furnace for a heat pump (or other energy efficient electric heating system)
    – Switch out gas water heater for a heat pump (or other energy efficient electric heating system)
    – Submit a report from a Home Energy Score or Home Energy Audit completed in the last five years. Follow one of the recommendations that came with the Score or Audit report, per approval by the Building Official

    Several of these options are low cost energy efficiency improvements that are easy to implement.

    There is no provision in the code that requires that functioning gas appliances be removed as a condition of the permit. PCA and others ask questions – read the ordinance.

  10. I read the council report and it is not alarming, however if this is adopted, some people are going to face tough decisions.

    Due to our mild climate and the low cost energy improvements, many of us in small homes don’t use a lot of energy. If the low cost changes have been done already, should we be required to do a high cost change to make our already small energy use smaller? The solar energy salesman finally left my door after I told him my typical electric bill is about $40.

    I agree that reducing emissions is important. Maybe instead of forcing people to make expensive choices chasing after incremental improvements, they should have an option to contribute to a fund used to subsidize insulating homes or schools or adding solar cells in places where the climate is harsher and energy use is much higher. If it’s really about the environment, we should pick the low hanging fruit first, and not much of that fruit is here in Piedmont.

  11. I had another thought about this. If the point of the law is not to make people replace furnaces and water heaters, then why put that possibility into the law?

    There are low cost ways to reduce energy use, but after those are done, perhaps the law should allow people the freedom to do a renovation without having to jump through the highest hoops.

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