To help update the city’s building codes to comply with stricter state Building Energy Efficiency Standards taking effect Jan. 1, the Piedmont City Council on Monday added new energy-related requirements for building new homes or making major renovations to old ones.
These changes in the building codes, unanimously approved by the council, include:
- Requiring that newly built single-family buildings, including new detached accessory dwelling units (ADUs), must, as of Jan. 1, 2023, use all-electric building appliances – electric space and water heaters, electric ovens and stoves, electric clothes dryers – and not natural gas appliances. In fact, new single-family buildings will be prohibited from being connected to natural gas service at all.
- For projects to create a new upper level on a single-family building, or that increase a single-family building’s total roof area by 30 percent or more, are required to install solar panels on that new roof. The number of panels required will be according to existing statewide standards.
- Any housing renovation of a single-family building that costs $30,000 or more will require the applicant to choose one item from a list of energy-efficient insulation or electrification fixes to include in the renovation. A housing renovation on a single family building that costs $115,000 or more will require the applicant to choose two items from the list.
That list of items includes a package of attic insulation, air sealing and duct sealing; wall insulation; floor insulation; a package of low-flow fixtures and water heater/ water piping insulation; a package of high-efficacy (efficiency) lighting for internal lights; switching out a gas furnace for a heat pump or other energy-efficient electric heating system; switching out a gas water heater for a heat pump (or other energy efficient electric heating system).
Also, owners of homes hosting such major renovation projects must submit a report from a Home Energy Score or Home Energy Audit completed in the last five years and follow one of the recommendations that came with that score or audit report, as approved by the city’s building official.
Reach Codes Update
Also approved Monday night were some relatively minor adjustments to the city’s Reach Codes and Home Energy Assessment Policy, first approved by the City Council in February 2021. These are a series of local building requirements designed to bring energy savings and reduce natural gas use in the city, and help regulate new construction, roof extension projects and home renovation projects – all in the service of advancing Piedmont’s Climate Action Plan.
Margaret Ovenden and Garrett Keating both told the council they want to see the building codes and Reach Codes further modified to include multifamily housing in the requirements for electric-only appliances. The endgame, Ovenden said, is for all Piedmont residences to be weaned from gas appliances. Keating said he supports Piedmont forming a Sustainability Commission to pay even more attention to these issues.
Alyssa Dykman, Piedmont’s sustainability manager, said the city has been learning lessons about the Reach Codes since Piedmont adopted them. She said clear messaging to the public, getting community input and being conscious of costs associated with complying with the codes are all important goals moving forward.
Added Mayor Teddy Gray King, “Even though we passed the Reach Codes a while ago, many, many people are not aware (of them).”
The report on the code changes can be seen at https://piedmont.ca.gov/common/pages/DisplayFile.aspx?itemId=18933092
Also at the meeting on Monday:
- City Council heard a report about the city’s 2015-2023 (fifth cycle) Housing Element of the Piedmont General Plan that shows the city has issued 96 housing-unit permits since 2015, many more than the 60 required as part of the city’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) mandated by the state.
Senior Planner Pierce Macdonald told the council that, in 2021, all 23 building permits issued – 16 of them since finalized – were approvals to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs). In 2020, 21 of the 24 permits issued were also for ADUs, with only three permits being for single-family houses.
That big increase in ADU permitting was helped along, Director of Planning and Building Kevin Jackson said, when in 2020 the state allowed “ministerial” approval or denial of ADU plans, within 60 days of application, involving little or no personal judgment by city building officials.
Council members, including Betsy Smegal Andersen, said they appreciated ADUs’ role in helping Piedmont meet their state-mandated housing numbers.
“The word has gotten out, and folks are really enthusiastically looking for opportunities to create more housing on their property, and I feel like we should get credit for that,” she said.
She asked Macdonald whether that “credit” could possibly come in the form of the state allowing Piedmont to count approved housing units above that 60 number for 2015-2023 toward the much higher 578 units the state requires of Piedmont as part of the 2023-2031 (sixth cycle) Housing Element now being created. Macdonald said she would pose that question to state housing officials.
- Council also heard a report from the R3 Consulting Group, Inc. of an audit of billing and revenue reporting and review operational performance and compliance with the city’s garbage, recycling, and green waste collection services’ contract with Richmond Sanitary Services (Republic Services). The key takeaways are that Republic has done a good job overall, but that some reporting requirements have not been met completely, and that there have been missed collections in Piedmont.
One topic of conversation was SB 1382, which requires cities to reduce organics waste headed to landfills by 75 percent (from 2014 levels) by 2025. Republic spokeswoman Bielle Moore told the council it might be time to schedule a discussion with Piedmont officials about organics diversion. “We’re having a lot of meetings about how to implement this,” she said.
Dykman told the council the city has one of the highest, if not the highest, organics diversion rates in the area.
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