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Strategies to Enhance Energy Efficiency in Boston

These measures expand upon the Wu administration’s commitment to a just energy transition and a Green New Deal for Boston.

Today, Mayor Michelle Wu visited the Brian Honan Apartments in Allston-Brighton to announce the City’s intention to adopt a new, green building code that will strengthen energy efficiency requirements for new construction in Boston. To achieve this, Mayor Wu will file an ordinance with the Boston City Council to adopt the State Department of Energy Resources’ Municipal Opt-in Specialized Stretch Energy Code, a transformative green update that will further reduce climate-polluting emissions in buildings in municipalities that have adopted the code across the state. Additionally, Mayor Wu announced the new Large Building Green Energy Retrofits Program administered by the Mayor’s Office of Housing, a grant program supported by $10 million of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to be used to foster energy performance improvements for affordable housing developments. This program will significantly reduce the energy consumption and carbon footprint of Boston’s existing affordable housing. Together, these efforts will further the City’s work to increase energy efficiency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, transition away from fossil fuels, and support the City’s carbon neutrality goals. 

"Building a Green New Deal city means improving on our existing infrastructure as well as investing in future resilient development," said Mayor Michelle Wu. "This new green building code will help ensure that we set the foundation for healthy, resilient growth throughout our neighborhoods.”

“Our focus is taking decisive action now to support our climate, advance justice and bolster livability throughout the City of Boston for all of our residents. To advance Boston's Green New Deal, we are tackling building decarbonization from all different angles, using all of the tools at our disposal,” said Green New Deal Director Oliver Sellers-Garcia. “By both adapting existing buildings and setting new energy standards for new buildings, we are taking an all of government approach to reducing emissions in more buildings to ensure our climate’s health and our city’s quality of life.”

Municipal Opt-in Specialized Stretch Energy Code

The Specialized Stretch Code was created along with an updated Stretch Energy Code in December 2022. The stretch energy code applies to nearly 300 Green Communities in Massachusetts, including Boston, and sets energy efficiency requirements for new construction and major renovations. The new, updated Stretch Energy code requires energy conservation measures to reduce heating and cooling demand. It creates a strong standard to ensure buildings are more resilient to power outages while enabling efficiency, electrification, and affordability. 

In Boston, 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from the building sector. The impacts of these emissions contribute to global climate change and local air pollution that disproportionately impacts low-income residents and communities of color in Boston. The updated energy code will deliver the long-term benefits of improved air quality, lower energy costs, reduced carbon emissions, and enhanced thermal comfort to residents. Research shows there is little-to-no cost increase for building efficient and fossil fuel-free multifamily housing. 

“The adoption of the state’s Specialized Stretch Energy Code is an important part of Boston’s work to decarbonize our buildings and reduce our carbon footprint,” said Reverend Mariama White-Hammond, Chief of Environment, Energy and Open Space. “I’m grateful to be a part of a Green New Deal City where we prioritize affordable housing in our decarbonization work.”

The specialized code expands upon the current policy by requiring mixed-fuel buildings, or those using fossil fuels, to add wiring for future conversion to electrification and to install solar. The specialized code will result in most new buildings adhering to a highly efficient, all-electric standard. The specialized code includes three pathways to comply, including: 

  • Zero Energy: All stretch code efficiency requirements are to be met, and on-site renewable energy generation is equal to or greater than the building’s annual energy use. Any fossil fuel use must be pre-wired for electrification.
  • All-Electric: This pathway requires all stretch code efficiency requirements to be met and for the property to utilize no fossil fuels, except for backup generators, on-site vehicles, or outdoor equipment fueling. 
  • Mixed-fuel: Gas or fossil fuels are allowed if all stretch code efficiency requirements are met and the building is pre-wired for electrification. On-site solar must also be added to the property where feasible. New homes over 4,000 sq. ft. cannot use this option.

If approved by the City Council all multifamily housing over 12,000 sq. ft. must achieve Passive House certification in addition to meeting one of the above pathways beginning in January 2024. 

“Requiring new construction and major renovations to maximize energy efficiency will get us closer to electrifying affordably and make our buildings more resilient,” said Councilor Kendra Lara, Chair of the Committee on Environmental Justice, Resiliency, and Parks. “This is a critical step in meeting our decarbonization goals and protecting our most vulnerable communities from the impacts of climate change.”

The specialized code is a critical foundation for other City building decarbonization policies by requiring new construction and buildings undergoing major renovations to be as efficient as possible. The City is already leading by example in its construction initiatives, adopting a fossil fuel-free standard for new municipal buildings and holding City-funded affordable housing developments to a zero emissions standard. The City is also continuing community engagement around regulations development for the Building Emissions Reduction and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO), which requires existing mid- to large-sized buildings to reduce their emissions gradually to net-zero by 2050. Additionally, last summer Mayor Wu filed legislation to give Boston the local option to set building standards eliminating the use of fossil fuels for new developments and major renovations in Boston with the goal of participating in a 10-municipality pilot program administered by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources.

Affordable housing green retrofits

While adopting the new greener specialized code creates a strong baseline for new buildings to be energy efficient, the City of Boston is also being intentional about supporting existing properties to bolster energy efficiency through retrofits. To support this work, Mayor Wu announced the Mayor’s Office of Housing’s new Large Building Green Energy Retrofits Program that will provide up to $50,000 per unit for deep energy retrofits for income-restricted buildings with 15 or more units in Boston. In coordination with the launch of this program, the Mayor’s Office of Housing is also offering up to $10,000 in technical assistance grants to support building owners in learning about their building’s energy use, and laying out a roadmap to achieving a deep energy retrofit of their building and BERDO compliance. More information about technical assistance grants can be found here.

Residential buildings are responsible for approximately 50% of greenhouse gas emissions from buildings in Boston, and improving their energy efficiency can help to reduce these emissions and mitigate climate change. Energy-efficient buildings help to lower energy costs for tenants and affordable housing operators, improve indoor air quality, and create more comfortable and healthy living environments for Boston residents. 

"The new Large Building Green Energy Retrofits Program is a comprehensive effort to improve the energy efficiency and environmental sustainability of existing affordable housing in the City of Boston,” said Chief of Housing, Sheila Dillon. “By investing in green energy retrofits in income-restricted housing, we are creating a more sustainable and resilient city. The changes this program will fund will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, contribute to a cleaner, healthier city and will advance Boston's goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.”

There are a variety of green energy retrofits possible for income-restricted housing developments in Boston, accounting for the building's age, condition, and usage. Standard retrofitting measures include:

  • Installing energy-efficient lighting and appliances
  • Upgrading insulation and weatherization to prevent heat loss
  • Replacing outdated heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems with more efficient models
  • Installing solar panels or other renewable energy sources
  • Upgrading windows and doors to be more energy-efficient

“We cannot have a green Boston without greening our existing large buildings, and we especially need healthy, energy-efficient housing for our affordable housing residents,” said Councilor Kenzie Bok, Chair of the Committee on Boston’s Covid-19 Recovery. “I am proud that the Council and the Mayor were able to dedicate this $10 million in federal recovery funds to improving energy performance in affordable housing specifically. With these funds, we will put our low-income residents at the front of the green revolution and create a blueprint for affordable green retrofits that we then hope to use as a model citywide.”

“I am delighted that a much needed infusion of cash will protect the infrastructure and reduce energy consumption in the Brian Honan Apartments,” said Councilor Liz Breadon. “Residents in my district and throughout Boston are calling for improved air quality and innovative solutions to climate change. My thanks to the Wu administration and my Council colleagues who persistently advocate for healthy affordable housing in our city.”

“Allston Brighton CDC is pleased to be an early recipient of the Large Building Green Energy Retrofits Program to help us preserve and enhance the Brian J. Honan Apartments in Allston.  Our team has committed to pursuing green technologies at our properties to not only reduce the environmental impact of development but to create healthy and safe housing for our residents,” said John Woods, Executive Director of the Allston Brighton Community Development Corporation. “We would like to thank Mayor Wu and The City Of Boston for making these new and important resources available, which will ensure that deeply affordable housing can provide high-quality homes to residents for generations to come.”

“Today’s announcement marks an important step in demonstrating Boston’s climate leadership. We need to get Boston’s buildings off of fossil fuels to meet our climate goals and mitigate the extreme impacts of climate pollution that disproportionately impact environmental justice communities. Electric buildings are cost effective to construct, reduce energy costs when paired with efficiency measures, and provide cleaner indoor and outdoor air, improving public health and community resilience," said Michele Brooks, Boston Lead Organizer with the Massachusetts Sierra Club. "As we move to electrify our buildings, it’s necessary that we provide resources to support affordable housing developments in making these efficiency upgrades. We are pleased to celebrate the city in the announcement of $10 million dedicated towards green energy retrofits."
The Large Building Green Energy Retrofits Program is part of a larger $20 million initiative to embed deep energy retrofits in Boston’s existing building stock. Over the coming months, the City will be building upon this work with a retrofit program for smaller residential buildings as well as a program specific to retrofitting the Boston Housing Authority. The adoption of the specialized code, in conjunction with retrofitting affordable housing to ensure maximized efficiency, supports a Green New Deal approach to achieve Boston's environmental and economic justice goals. By ensuring new and existing buildings are built as efficiently as possible, the City of Boston will be able to mitigate emissions from the building sector, bolstering housing affordability, and supporting the City's goals to be carbon neutral by 2050.

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