Chicago’s New Weapon Against Climate Change: A Requirement New Homes Are Ready For Easy Electrical Installation

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The City Council has made life easier — and cheaper — for Chicago residents looking to reduce their carbon footprint by installing electric stoves, clothes dryers and water heaters.

Under the new energy transformation code of 2022, passed Wednesday, newly built homes must be wired and ready for major electrical appliances, saving homeowners, renters and landlords the headache of laying extra wires and adding outlets.

The ordinance also requires some low-lying commercial buildings — many of them warehouses — to be built with roofs that can support solar panels.

“It’s really exciting,” said Grant Ullrich, managing deputy commissioner of the Buildings Department, noting that 70% of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions are related to buildings and industry.

“In Chicago, a big part of our solution to global climate change has to do with our building stock,” Ullrich said.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, buildings, including homes and businesses, but not factories, are responsible for 29% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and experts say building electrification can play an important role in reducing emissions. of greenhouse gases and preventing the worst effects of climate change.

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New York has banned natural gas heating and stoves in new buildings, and Los Angeles has banned most new-build gas appliances.

Chicago’s new ordinance doesn’t go that far, but it also encourages the switch from natural gas to electricity.

Ullrich said Chicago’s new ordinance will provide an added benefit.

The federal Inflation Reduction Act, passed in August after many political observers abandoned comprehensive climate change legislation, includes $1 billion in funding for technical assistance in areas such as improving the building permit process. But cities won’t be eligible to apply for that money until they’ve passed a code update at least as strict as the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code, Ullrich said.

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“We’ll be one of the first to do that, so we’ll be first in line when applying for that money,” he said.

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In June, Katie Kaluzny of the Illinois Green Alliance told the Tribune that the new regulation “puts us on a really good path for what’s minimal for Chicago.”

“While all-electric is not required, it does make a builder think. It lets you assess whether you want to build both infrastructures. In some cases, gas will still make sense, and that transition may come later, but that resident — or that homeowner or that renter — would at least be ready to do that if and when that time came,” said Kaluzny, associate director. from Illinois Green Alliance, a non-profit organization that promotes green buildings and sustainability.

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Mike Cwienkala, chairman of the board of directors for Chicagoland Associated General Contractors, told the Tribune in June that the ordinance “sets clear steps the construction industry can and should take to promote sustainable construction infrastructure.”

He said the regulation will increase construction costs, but added that the increased costs “should be viewed as investments in these projects, as they will help reduce the life cycle costs of buildings and add value to the properties.”

The ordinance, an update to the city’s energy-efficient building code, also includes the adoption of the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code. The 2021 code represents an 8.7% reduction in carbon emissions for residential buildings compared to the 2018 code, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The International Code is updated every three years by the International Code Council and sets minimum requirements for energy-efficient buildings. It discusses costs, energy consumption, use of natural resources and the environmental impact of energy consumption.

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