2022 Green Building Model Reach Code and Ordinance Development

Community Development Agency

The County of Marin, City of San Rafael, City of San Anselmo, and MCE clean energy have joined together to bolster Marin’s ambitious green building efforts. The team is developing a green building model (prototype) ordinance that exceeds State minimum standards, otherwise known as a “reach code”. Learning resources and implementation and enforcement materials will also be available for all twelve jurisdictions countywide to utilize and download.

All community stakeholders are encouraged to participate in community workshops and visit this page frequently. To access resources as development progresses until the end of 2022, please click the subscribe link below to stay up-to-date.

Model Reach Code Approach

The following goals reflect a starting point in the development of Marin's model reach codes:

  1. To develop City, Town, and County all-electric reach codes for completely new buildings, including residential, multifamily, and commercial
  2. To develop City, Town, and County reach codes for remodels of existing residences, including single and multifamily buildings
  3. To develop these reach codes for whole building projects only. It WILL NOT require appliance swaps at the time of replacement, otherwise known as "time of burnout"
  4. To adopt uniform building codes countywide that are consistent across all jurisdictions.

Details of Marin's Proposed Green Building Model Reach Code Ordinance Approach illustrates how we will meet these goals.

Process and Timeline

This countywide effort began September 2021. If adopted, reach codes will amend each jurisdiction’s local building requirements. Building code amendments will ideally be adopted by council via an ordinance by September 2022. In concert with the State’s standards, the amended building code will go into effect January 1, 2023.

Image of Green Building Policy Timeline 

Proposed Model Reach Code

(Under Development) The first draft should be available approximately July 2022.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

The What and the Why of Electrification

  • What is building electrification?

    Electrification refers to the process of using electricity to power building appliances such as furnaces, water heaters, and cooking appliances rather than burning fossil fuel (i.e., natural gas and propane). Today’s electric appliances often include induction or heat pump technology, NOT the old electric resistance coils. When these electric appliances are run on renewable energy, they result in less greenhouse gas emissions and eliminate the combustion of gasses in the home which results in better indoor air quality.

  • Why electrify buildings?

    Electrifying our buildings can result in reduced greenhouse gas emissions and much improved indoor air quality. Greenhouse gas emissions from electricity use in buildings are already on the decline, thanks to the State’s renewable portfolio standard, local solar installations, and energy efficiency efforts. However, as we have cleaned the electric grid, the share of emissions in the built environment has shifted significantly to natural gas (Figure 1). Recent studies show that natural gas not only leads to more emissions from its burning in the household, but also leakages from stoves, pipes, and fittings. We must focus our attention on reducing natural gas use if the State and Marin are going to meet their climate obligations and improve indoor air quality.

    Figure 1. 2005 Versus 2019 Marin Countywide Building Emissions by Source
    2005 greenhouse gas emissions pie chart2019 greenhouse gas emissions pie chart

  • How does natural gas affect indoor air quality?

    Eliminating the burning of natural gas indoors will improve indoor air quality and health outcomes. Burning of natural gas has been found to release unhealthy levels of pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and formaldehyde (HCHO) all known to cause respiratory problems, increase risk of early childhood asthma, and exacerbate cardiovascular disease in vulnerable populations.

About the Proposed Ordinance

  • What are building reach codes?

    While the State of California updates the building code every three years and all jurisdictions must adopt this code at a minimum, cities and counties may also choose to adopt local building codes that “reaches” above and beyond the State minimum. A local jurisdiction can choose to adopt a reach code in order to achieve additional health, safety, and environmental benefits such as increased energy and emissions savings.

  • What is being proposed for updated building codes and how does it compare with the State standards?

    The County is proposing to update 2022 building code requirements such that:

    1. All new construction projects will be required to be all-electric (residential, multifamily, and commercial) and
    2. Renovations (aka additions and alterations) of existing single and multi-family homes will be required to achieve energy efficiency savings beyond State code.
    This change would remove the tiered pathway requirements currently in effect for new construction in certain jurisdictions in Marin County. Additionally, an easy-to-use flexible measures compliance tool - a point based system - developed by the State will be available for project applicants to use for compliance with renovation requirements.

    For context, in the 2022 Building Code Update, the State of California will be requiring all new residential projects to include either electric space heating or electric water heating. While this is a strong step towards electrification, it misses the opportunity for residential projects to fully benefit from the construction savings that can come from eliminating the need to plumb and meter for natural gas.

     

  • When do the next building codes take effect?

    The next reach code adoption cycle will go into effect January 1, 2023. The County's reach code is planned for adoption this same date. The previous code adoption cycle is currently in effect since January 1, 2020.

  • What type of projects will need to comply with proposed green building requirements?

    It will depend on what each jurisdiction decides to adopt. All incorporated and unincorporated Marin jurisdictions are currently considering an ordinance that would require all-electric for new construction projects (residential, multifamily, and commercial) and a flexible compliance energy efficiency code that would apply to additions and alterations. Furthermore, jurisdictions countywide have the opportunity to coordinate and develop a model code during the 2022 code cycle. Developing a uniform building code will be a key objective so as to create universal requirements and predictability for the building community and project applicants.

  • Will all-electric requirements be mandated for renovations or remodels of existing buildings?

    No. The proposed building code is looking to create all-electric buildings for new construction only. It will not apply to existing buildings undergoing renovations. Nonetheless, it is worth noting jurisdictions across the State are looking into codes that require time of burnout or time of replacement requirements on gas space and water heating appliances. The County (unincorporated Marin) will not be considering this as an option during this code development cycle. Instead, the County will evaluate feasibility and equity impacts especially on renters and lower income households in 2024 as per its climate action plan. The County also offers incentives for homeowners that voluntarily replace their natural gas appliances with high efficiency electric units. These incentives can also be stacked with additional State and regional incentives. Learn more about all available rebates at the County’s Electrify Marin website.

For Residents

  • Will you take my gas stove away?

    No. The proposed building code is looking to create all-electric buildings for new construction. It only applies to new construction and will not affect residents who already have gas appliances.

  • What is an induction stove/cooktop and is it as good as gas?

    It is not an old coil or radiant electric resistance stove. Think of your electric kettle which uses induction to rapidly boil hot water. In contrast to the old electric resistance coil cooktops - which were not as responsive as gas cooktops - modern induction cooktops are more responsive, faster, and efficient than resistance or gas equivalents. Induction cooktops send more energy right to the pans, so they heat up faster and respond to temperature adjustments much more quickly than gas cooktops. Many famous restaurants including The French Laundry use induction cooktops. Gas cooktops involve burning gas right in your home. They have been found to emit toxic fumes (i.e., carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and other harmful pollutants) in the home leading to poor indoor air quality.

  • Isn’t electricity more expensive than natural gas?

    Yes. Depending where you live, on a dollar per energy used basis, electricity can be upwards of three times more expensive. However, high efficiency electric appliances such as heat pumps and induction use less energy and outperform natural gas appliances.

    For example, heat pump water heaters not only use less energy than conventional water heaters, but also allow customers to preheat water during times of the day when power is cheaper and store the hot water for use during peak times when costs are higher. Heat pump water heaters also have a lifespan of around 13-15 years, while conventional versions typically need to be replaced every 8-12 years.

    Additionally, the electric rate setting process needs to be considered with regard to this question. In Marin County, MCE sets their generation rates with a few key objectives and customer considerations in mind including:

    • Rate stability: Rate changes should be minimized to reduce impact on customer bills.

    • Customer understanding: Rates should be simple, transparent, and easily understood by customers.

    • Equity among customers: Rate differences among customers should be justified by differences in usage characteristics, cost of service, or both.

    • Efficiency: Rates should encourage conservation and efficient use of electricity (for example, off-peak vehicle charging or time-of-use load shifting).

     

  • If I install all-electric appliances will it cost me more?

    Yes and no. It depends on the scope of your comparison. Initial capital costs can be higher but when looking at the life of the equipment and your return on investment, all-electric can be cost effective. Consider the following:

    1. Today's modern electric induction and heat pump appliances are more efficient than natural gas as well as traditional electrical coil/resistance appliances, so they use less energy and therefore cost less money to operate.
    2. All-electric appliances have energy savings over time plus rebates and incentives (upwards of $2,000 in Marin County) to bring down capital costs.
    3. All-electric savings has to be looked at beyond just costs seen on the bill. The value proposition for all-electric appliances comes from considering rebates and incentives on capital costs, lower costs over the life of the equipment, and reduced societal and public health costs.
    4. When you install a heat pump for space heating you also get air conditioning at no additional cost
  • How would electrification be affected by PG&Es shift to time of use (TOU) rates, if at all?

    For many customers, TOU rates can be advantageous. While a customer’s overall electricity usage may increase under an all-electric scenario, there are more options for managing the related costs based on time of day. Before, on a tiered rate, the only way to reduce utility bills was to simply use less electricity. With a TOU rate, customers can lower their bill by shifting when they use energy to off-peak hours, giving customers more control over their bills.

    TOU pricing also helps the electric grid run more efficiently by encouraging customers to use electricity during off-peak hours when more renewable energy is available. Charging your electric vehicle and using major appliances such as washing machines and dishwashers during daytime off-peak hours helps use excess solar energy on the grid and can help keep bills low.

    With that being said, every household is unique in the way they use energy. Customers are encouraged to visit PG&Es TOU Rate Plans for Residential Customers that shows the best rate for you. Please note that you must change your rate plan through PG&E.

Reliability and Resilience

  • Can the electric grid handle the increased electricity demand if all households and businesses were to go all-electric?

    Yes. The grid can handle the electrification of households and businesses going all-electric because of smart planning and preparation for future energy needs being made today at the State and local level.

    First, since we're only mainly dealing with new construction in Marin County, the demand on the grid and procurement will be gradual and can be accounted for - it’s not as if electrifying will occur statewide all at once. Transition will occur in phases.

    Second, the electrical capacity of the grid is determined by the peak demand or the times when the most electrical energy is needed. In California, peak electrical demand has historically been driven by the hot summer demands for air conditioning. In all other times of the year, there is available grid capacity to handle more demand. When electrifying the home, increased demand will be driven by space and water heating appliances. This increased demand will dominate in the wintertime when there is excess grid capacity. Learn more on how electrification could also help stabilize the grid as more renewables come online.

    Lastly, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) released its draft 20-Year Transmission Outlook report on January 31, 2022 mapping out the steps needed to meet the State’s ambitious clean energy goals including statewide transmission upgrade plans and electrification and decarbonization efforts. Locally, MCE is a strong proponent of building electrification and is poised to support the uptake of electrification measures through customer programs, procurement, and training. MCE is prepared to serve any extra electrical energy needed by new electrical load and appliances in new construction that is required under new ordinances and reach codes. Utilities, like MCE and PG&E, forecast anticipated load impacts such as electrification trends, demand-side resources, weather, regulatory mandates, etc. in determining how much energy they need to purchase for their customers, now and in the future.

  • When public power shut offs and electrical outages occur won’t all-electric homes be stuck without power?

    Mostly no. Due to California’s recent challenges with grid shutdowns coupled with its ambitious clean energy goals, the State and utilities are especially focused on delivering a more reliable grid.

    First, while Marin County has been significantly impacted by Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) in previous years, PG&E has continued to take steps, including hardening its infrastructure and improving its local distribution system. In Marin County, PG&E has completed vegetation management on 52 miles of transmission lines in Marin County and installed 62 sectionalizing devices which reduces impact to areas should a local PSPS be needed in the future. While there is no absolute way to eliminate power outages completely, these steps reduce the frequency and durations of potential outages.

    Second, natural disasters, emergencies, and power outages can also occur with the natural gas system. For example, during wildfires and earthquakes, utilities must often turn the natural gas system off. A restoration study completed for the City of San Francisco in 2020, found that the electrical grid could be restored to power within days to weeks while the natural gas infrastructure would require up to six months to be fully restored because of the time required to test all lines and for crews to restore service to each individual connection.

    As discussed earlier, MCE supports building electrification and is taking steps to improve energy reliability. If 100% reliability is the goal, then electrification with battery and solar backup via a microgrid will mitigate energy reliability risk while also providing financial returns during normal operation.

    Finally, when the electricity is out, most gas furnaces won't operate because their fans are electric and many modern gas ranges also require electricity for ignition.

For Builders

  • The building community is not familiar with electric appliances.  Are they ready for an all-electric building code?

    Yes and no. The technology is not new. Architects, contractors, green building practitioners, and developers have been familiar with all-electric buildings and appliances for years.

    It is true that some are not familiar with the technical aspects, installation, and incentives regarding these appliances. Furthermore, it is less common for residential builders as compared to commercial developers to install all-electric appliances or whole building projects. To fill this gap in knowledge and expand access to resources, the State has recently provided free support to contractors and businesses. TECH Clean California is a statewide initiative providing market incentives and workforce education and training to make it easier and more cost-competitive for distributors and contractors to stock, sell, and install heat pump technology for residential replacement projects.

    Lastly, it will be prudent for the building community to start learning about this inevitable transition to an all-electric California. Starting January 2023, most new construction buildings and homes across California will be required to have at least one heat pump - for either space heating or water heating.

For Jurisdictions

  • How will the planning, building, and/or sustainability staff ensure code compliance?

    The process for ensuring building code compliance will remain largely the same including compliance checklists. What will change is the list of items that will be inspected which is revised with every triennial update of the State’s building codes. Code requirements are continually evolving, so building, planning, and sustainability staff are always learning about the newest code requirements to inspect. Local governments will be given checklists as developed by the State and industry practitioners. Marin jurisdictions will also receive support to develop additional checklists, as needed. In addition, specialists assist with confirming applicant compliance by working with project teams and completing code checklists to submit to building officials.

    Lastly, ensuring 100% compliance of all projects within a jurisdiction is difficult. Hence, City, Town, and County staff will do the best they can to reduce compliance burden such as concisely communicating compliance, streamlining green building checklists, and/or moving as many over-the-counter transactions online as possible. On the policy side, it will be valuable to the building community for policy makers to develop uniform building codes countywide. The consistent frustration of contractors to comply with various building codes in Marin County only compounds the risk of non-compliance.

  • Why adopt all-electric for new construction reach codes through a health and safety (H&S) justification as opposed to a cost-effective justification?

    In contrast to adopting the ordinance through a building code justification, using the health and safety municipal code as the justification can streamline the adoption process, put the control of regulating indoor air quality in the hands of the local jurisdiction, and doesn’t require a triennial update. The State allows local governments to adopt reach codes via two potential paths:

    1. "Building Code Path"; Justify the reach code by demonstrating that the more stringent measures are cost effective over the life of the equipment,
    2. "Health and Safety Code Path"; Justify the need for more stringent measures by showing that the amendments are necessary because of local health and safety concerns from the combustion of natural gas.
    Many jurisdictions throughout the State such as the Town of Fairfax and City of Petaluma have adopted reach codes that require new construction to be all-electric. These jurisdictions are using their police power under a Health and Safety Code path to regulate indoor air quality by citing health and safety concerns of natural gas combustion in enclosed spaces. It will be prudent for Marin’s jurisdictions to propose an all-electric requirement as part of their municipal code as granted to them by the California Health and Safety code as opposed to the cost effectiveness route. This will allow the board or council to make the final decision and a cost effectiveness study will not be required to go through the CEC for review and approval. Additionally, by going this route, the code would not need to be revised and updated with each triennial update to the Building Code but will become a permanent change to the regulations.

     

  • Who enforces compliance checks if all-electric reach codes are adopted using a Health and Safety Code justification?

    The local jurisdiction’s building official.

  • How do building officials enforce all-electric requirements if an applicant is permitted to start work as a minor renovation, then increases the project scope over time which triggers substantial remodel or new construction requirements?  Will that applicant then be required to remove any gas appliances and install all-electric appliances?

    According to the model reach code under consideration, as each minor renovation (addition or alteration) is performed, the applicant would be required to include energy efficiency requirements under the Addition/Alteration reach code. That reach code includes a flexible measures compliance tool which will capture electrification and/or energy efficiency measures over time. By the time all phases of the project are completed, the building as a whole will be much more efficient and may include more electrification measures than the original structure and therefore may meet the requirements of the all-electric ordinance. The applicant would need to work with their Building Department to choose the best path forward for the project.

Resources

Adoption Support Tools for City and Town Staff

Over-the-Counter Support Tools for Building Officials

  • Combined City/Town/County and CalGreen (Title 24) Checklists (Under Development)

Learning Resources for Everyone

Engagements

Marin Countywide Community Workshops

  • May Public Community Workshops (details Coming Soon)
    • Theme
    • Time and Location
    • Registration Link
  • June - July Building Community (Developers, Architects, Engineers, Contractors, Consultants) Workshop (Under Development)
    • Theme
    • Time and Location
    • Registration Link
  • June - July Advocate Community (Environmental, Equity, Social, and Affordable Housing) Workshop (Under Development)
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    • Time and Location

External Events