FRAMEWORK

EXISTING BUILDINGS: ACCELERATING ENERGY UPGRADES

City Form: Buildings Typology

In many cities, there are relatively few BIG buildings that use a lot of energy, and a large number of SMALL buildings that each use small amounts of energy. The few BIG buildings and many SMALL buildings are each responsible for about half of city-wide building sector energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

This is how we visualize cities, as dense urban areas with BIG buildings:

But in reality, the city is a complex web of a relatively few BIG buildings and many, many SMALL buildings:

  • Chicago, IL
    Photo in Public Domain via Wikimedia.

Also, in many cities, the relatively few BIG buildings are responsible for about half or more of citywide building sector greenhouse gas emissions. For example:

  • New York City, NY: Less than 2% of buildings are over 50,000 square feet and produce 48% of total building sector greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Long Beach, CA: 1% of buildings are over 10,000 square feet, and produce 40% of total building sector greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Seattle, WA: 3% of buildings are over 20,000 square feet, and produce 45% of total building sector emissions.
  • Minneapolis, MN: 2.5% of buildings are over 20,000 square feet, and produce 59% of total building sector greenhouse gas emissions.

Consequently, impactful policies should be implemented that address BIG BUILDINGS and SMALL BUILDINGS differently.

Guiding Principles

Achieving zero emissions from the existing building stock will require accelerating the rate and depth of energy upgrades by implementing policies that leverage building intervention points.

Building energy upgrades include:

  • improvements in the energy efficiency of building operations,
  • a shift to electric or district heating systems powered by carbon-free renewable energy sources, and
  • the generation and/or procurement of carbon-free renewable energy.

Building intervention points occur at:

  • building point-of-sale
  • major renovations
  • building systems, materials and equipment replacements
  • capital improvement cycles
  • zoning or use changes
  • life-safety and resiliency upgrades (e.g. seismic, flooding, fire prevention, power disruption)

Energy upgrade policies that allow ample time for required upgrades to align with market-driven intervention points will help mitigate the cost barriers and disruption associated with any additional construction.

Energy upgrade policies will also catalyze an expanded market for building renovations and carbon-free renewable energy generation that will stimulate a sustained increase in local jobs, market growth, and tax revenue.

Zero Emissions for Existing Buildings will Require:

BIG Building Policies

In big cities, buildings over 20,000 square feet represent a very small percentage of the total number of buildings (1-4%), yet represent a significant amount of total building floor area. As a result, these big buildings are responsible for a large percentage of city-wide building sector energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions (40-75%).

Due to the relatively small number of buildings that would be affected, jurisdictions can consider date-certain energy upgrade policies for big buildings and allow ample time for alignment with capital improvement cycles.

Date-certain policies for big buildings should be targeted to specific building types and sizes and have both short- and long-term targets. This gives the private sector enough time to adjust their capital improvement cycles (e.g. major renovations, maintenance and equipment replacement, asset reclassification, and life safety or natural hazard mitigation) in order to comply with requirements.

A number of date-certain policies can be considered for big buildings:

  • Prescriptive Upgrades
    • Require individual building components that reduce energy use and emissions to meet increased performance criteria (e.g. specific energy efficiency measures, or switching heating systems to electric or district systems*).
  • Fossil Fuel Energy Cap
    • Establish maximum fossil fuel energy consumption targets for each building type, which can be met through energy efficiency upgrades, switching to electric or district systems,* and/or generating/procuring carbon-free renewable energy. 
  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions Cap
    • Establish maximum greenhouse gas emissions intensity targets for each building type, which can be met through energy efficiency, switching to electric or district systems*, and/or generating/procuring carbon-free renewable energy. 
  • Carbon-Free Renewable Energy Requirements
    • Require buildings to generate/procure carbon-free renewable energy.

Set a reasonable policy compliance period of approximately 8 to 12 years to allow ample time for aligning with capital improvement cycles. In the cases of caps, increase the targets over time to get to zero-net-carbon. Establish and provide incentives for early compliance such as tax abatements, low-interest loans, reduced fees, rebates, and fast-track permitting.

*Jurisdictions with GHG-intensive electricity or district energy grids must complement switching to electric or district systems with impactful mechanisms for carbon-free renewable energy generation and procurement to reach zero-emissions standards.

Note: Due to jurisdictional variations in fuel consumption and electricity grid emissions, the prioritization of policies (e.g. grid decarbonization and building decarbonization) may vary from city to city.

SMALL Building Policies

In many cities, the majority (~98%) of buildings are SMALL buildings (under 20,000 square feet), and represent a third to more than half of city-wide building sector energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. These small buildings have very different energy consumption demands and intervention points for energy upgrades than BIG commercial, institutional, or multifamily buildings.

SMALL building energy upgrades can be accelerated by introducing policies that leverage specific building intervention points such as point-of-sale, point-of-lease, major renovations and equipment replacements. 

Point-of-Sale

Due to the frequency of small residential and commercial building sales (e.g., a typical home is sold every 9-12 years), the robust infrastructure for financing via home mortgages and other traditional lending, and the volume of building improvement projects in proximity to building sales, there is a significant opportunity to introduce performance improvements as part of the ownership transfer.

A point-of-sale energy upgrade requirement represents a powerful tool to drive improvements and GHG reductions in the small residential and commercial building market.

Recommended energy upgrade policy requirements for small buildings at point-of-sale or major building renovation† include:

  • Prescriptive Upgrades
    • Require individual building components that reduce energy use and emissions to meet increased performance criteria (e.g. specific energy efficiency measures, or switching heating systems to electric or district systems*).

  • Carbon-Free Renewable Energy Requirements
    • Require buildings to generate/procure carbon-free renewable energy.

These energy upgrade requirements are recommended due to ease of implementation, compliance, and known costs. Establish and provide incentives for early compliance such as tax abatements, low-interest loans, reduced fees, rebates, and fast-track permitting.

†A “major renovation” can be defined as the renovation of a building where (a) the total cost of the renovation related to the building envelope or the technical building systems is higher than 25 % of the value of the building, excluding the value of the land upon which the building is situated, or (b) more than 25 % of the surface of the building envelope undergoes renovation.

*Jurisdictions with GHG-intensive electricity grids must complement switching to electric systems with impactful mechanisms for carbon-free renewable energy generation and procurement to reach zero-emissions standards.

Note: Due to jurisdictional variations in fuel consumption and electricity grid emissions, the prioritization of policies (e.g. grid decarbonization and building decarbonization) may vary from city to city.

Highlighted Policy: Residential Energy Conservation Ordinances

Residential Energy Conservation Ordinances (RECOs) have been adopted to improve the energy and water efficiency of existing housing in the Cities of Berkeley, Davis, San Francisco, Burlington, Ann Arbor, and in the State of Wisconsin. RECOs are meant to help insulate residents from energy price increases by reducing the amount of energy used for heat, hot water, and lighting. The ordinances state that every home or apartment building sold or transferred or undergoing renovations (e.g. those valued at $50,000 or more) must meet energy or water efficiency requirements for certain items.

RECOs energy and water efficiency measures are selected to conserve natural resources, improve equipment performance, and save residents money. While the measures will pay for themselves in a short time, there are limits to the amount of money that residents are required to spend to meet RECO upgrades.

Policy Precedents: Existing Buildings

City of Vancouver Green Buildings Policy for Rezoning

All buildings seeking rezoning permits must meet Near Zero Emissions Buildings or Low Emissions Green Building requirements.
October 1, 2020/by arch2030

Boston Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance

Medium and large buildings are required to report annual energy and water use and complete a major energy or emissions action every 5 years.
January 9, 2020/by arch2030

Boulder SmartRegs

SmartRegs requires all licensed rental housing in the City of Boulder to meet a basic energy efficiency standard as a component of the rental license approval process.
October 8, 2019/by arch2030

Burlington Time of Sale Energy Efficiency Ordinance

Mandated cost-effective minimum energy efficiency standards enforced when rental buildings are sold.
April 29, 2019/by arch2030

San Francisco 100% Renewable Electricity for Large Commercial

All commercial buildings over 50,000 square feet will be powered with renewable electricity by 2030.
April 29, 2019/by arch2030

Berkeley CA RECO

Replaced in 2015, RECO originally required homeowners to complete basic water and energy upgrades prior to sale.
November 28, 2018/by arch2030

Clean Energy D.C. Omnibus Act

100% of Washington, D.C.'s electricity from come from renewable power by 2032, with building efficiency requirements for new and existing buildings.
November 28, 2018/by arch2030

NYC Building GHG Emissions Limits (Local Law 97)

This bill establishes greenhouse gas emissions limits for existing buildings and retro-commissioning requirements for certain buildings over 25,000 square feet.
November 26, 2018/by arch2030
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