Feb 21 2021

OPINION: Reach Codes Survey Excluded Piedmonters and Problems

– Piedmont REACH Code problems explained to the California Building Standards Commission –

February 12, 2021

Dear CA Building Standards Commission,

As a resident of Piedmont CA, I have some serious concerns regarding the passing of the “REACH” codes. Here is a copy of my letter to the council that states my concerns. They said there was a survey, but none of our friends were in the survey, so it seemed not to be representative of the residents.

First, Piedmonter’s were not all included in the survey – many friends are upset because they were not included. Many disagree with the Reach concept and do not feel represented thus my suggestion of A ballot vote for all.

Second is the impact of cost to the residential home owner.  In Piedmont, a normal bathroom remodel will cost say $40,000. If one adds the Reach upgrades, it could add another $10,000. or more.  Or consider the cost of a new roof…then add the insulation etc.. As a designer, I am familiar with those costs. Does this mean homeowners will not proceed with the work?

Third is our local enforcement of the use of less gas. This should be handled by an overall state building code to reduce off gassing. The changes are now being studied for action by the State. (Our use is small in the overall scheme. Consider the air pollution of autos and air  travel.)

Fourth we also have our regional wildfire electric blackouts which could leave residents without ability to cook and heat our homes if we rely on electric power source.

Years ago, Title 24 was added to the California code requirements and we had a time limit to reduce electric usage by lowering the voltage of electric bulbs. This was handled by the state and the manufacturers were put into a position to create products for the market that fit the bill. We now have those products and enforcement in our building codes. This is a more reasonable course of action.

Sylvia Willard Fones, Piedmont Resident

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.

7 Responses to “OPINION: Reach Codes Survey Excluded Piedmonters and Problems”

  1. MS. Fones is correct on each point. I had sent several emails to the Council making different points. The local government level is the least efficient level to make meaningful changes to regulations. But most importantly electrification is a mistake. It is a wash at best in terms of GHG emissions and at the costs that Ms. Fones points out. Less than 40% of the state’s power comes from wind and solar. NG is the largest source, and it is much more efficient to burn it where the heat is needed than at a power plant miles away and lose a high percentage in conversion and transmission.
    If the power of government is going to be used for GHG reduction, it is much more productive to be going after the transportation sector not the residential sector. Cars and trucks generate about 7 times more GHGs than do houses. The so-called Reach codes are at best a feel-good move. Piedmont can say, Look, we’re doing something too.

  2. I applaud the City Council and City Staff in their thorough research and thoughtful deliberation of the local energy efficiency ordinances called REACH codes. The REACH codes are intended to reach beyond statewide requirements for energy use in building design and construction. This landmark achievement will assist the our City in meeting the community standards outlined in Piedmont’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) 2.0. The REACH codes are a bold step forward in our commitment to address our climate emergency.
    The survey you mention was representative of our community. It included 384 residents and was carried out by a reputable firm with experience in carrying out public policy oriented research since 1981. Also, the REACH Codes only apply to projects with costs over specific thresholds and include a range of options to meet all budgets. If Piedmont is going to meet our GHG reduction goals we should be reducing emissions including autos and air travel also with the goal of becoming a Net Zero Energy community. The REACH codes do not prevent the use of natural gas. A power outage will most likely impact natural gas appliances as well as electric appliances since natural gas appliances require electricity to run fans, motor and electronic ignitions. Of course some gas appliances can be manually lite. That said gas lines can also be cut off. I think the recent weather event in Texas provides us a good example of the many problems of fossil fuels including natural gas.

  3. I, too, applaud both City Planning Dept staff and our Councilmembers for developing and implementing a thorough process with ample opportunity for public input and involvement. For example, there were 5 iterative public feedback sessions pre-COVID on the draft measures, a public electronic survey which was open for over a month, and a virtual Town Hall and professionally-conducted survey after the first reading, plus more Council input and public comments at the second reading, all of which were prominently announced and covered in local press articles. More importantly, not only was the process and documentation clear, the resulting measures are flexible, rational and— hopefully— will achieve some results. We can’t continue dumping our gaseous garbage into our neighbors’ yards— because that’s, in fact, what we are doing when we burn fossil fuels— and pretend as if no one suffers as a consequence. We ALL suffer. Moreover, we no longer have the luxury of taking an either-or approach to solving the problem. We don’t have the choice to decarbonize transportation or homes and buildings (and what would we suggest in that regard, anyway— banning or rationing flights and gasoline?) Anyone who is familiar with (has read in detail and digested) the UNIPCC (United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) numbers and the global scientific consensus knows that we must rapidly decarbonize everything in our lives as rapidly as possible to avoid some of the accelerating and intensifying suffering that is coming our way. Yes, Piedmont is a smaller city but our per capita carbon emissions, driven by our consumption choices and behaviors, are much higher than even the average U.S. resident who, in turn, has a much larger carbon footprint than most other global residents (even residents of other so-called developed countries in western Europe). Thank you, Councilmembers, for making a start on seeing through our collective commitment to reducing carbon emissions! Bravissima/o!

  4. Again, we have responders who repeat the mantra, but cannot explain how mandatory electrification can reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions in the real world California, where less than 40% of the power comes from wind and solar combined, yet Natural Gas (NG) is the largest source. The inherent inefficiency is ignored of making electricity many miles away by burning NG to make electricity with a substantial loss from conversion, and the heat as an unwanted by-product, then transporting the electricity to our homes, with more loss, to heat our water or fry our bacon.

  5. While it is true that Reach codes, and increasing electrification, may not immediately solve the climate crisis and does not promise a single-bullet solution, Reach codes are not merely a feel-good mantra— it is a solution founded in science, and is a step in the right direction. And, I might add, is far, far preferable to a BAU (Business As Usual) proposition— we can all (hopefully) recognize where the last half-century’s habits of fossil fuel burning have gotten us.

    And yes, currently, the grid is not 100% fossil-fuel-free but it is certainly moving in that direction. Meanwhile, continuing to replace gas-powered appliances at end-of-life (whether furnace, water heater, clothes dryer, stove/oven, or fireplace)—and not insulate homes/buildings merely dumps that much more GhG garbage into our communal atmosphere, at a rate which will distort the climate even further, and commits to doing so for another 10+ years, while the electric grid will continue to decarbonize.

    However, the gentleman raises a valid point that while it is Good to electrify one’s home appliances (and transportation), it is even Better (and safer from a fire hazard perspective) to generate one’s own carbon-free power with on-site/rooftop solar, and Best to generate and store power locally. Let’s go, Piedmont! 🙂

  6. It should be obvious after Texas that the energy imbalance Michael cites (NG and coal predominant source of energy) has to be corrected – GHG emissions from these sources are causing the weather extremes that we are confronting. Electrification has hurdles to surmount but what do opponents of Reach offer as a solution for reducing GHG? NG may have a role as a “bridging” energy source to electrification, but its production (fracking) and distribution to homes is increasingly being found to leak methane to the atmosphere, a much more potent GHG. Most of the Reach codes are just common sense improvements to tighten up the home so less heat escapes, thereby reducing the monthly use of natural gas. Do Reach code opponents oppose these solutions?

  7. Garrett, the internal combustion engine generates 7 times more GHGs than the entire residential sector. We should be going after the big-ticket items not the trivia. A significant carbon tax would incentivize using less gas, diesel and NG. Environmental groups like Transform are pushing for strategies that should have significantly more benefits than the questionable Reach code.

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