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Electric appliances, which cause fewer greenhouse gas emissions, would get a boost under proposed Chicago ordinance

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 7/6/2022 Nara Schoenberg, Chicago Tribune
A Chicago resident cooks on his electric induction stove in the Logan Square neighborhood on June 29, 2022. © Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS A Chicago resident cooks on his electric induction stove in the Logan Square neighborhood on June 29, 2022.

Electric appliances, which emit less planet-warming carbon dioxide than those powered by natural gas, would get a boost under an ordinance proposed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Chicago Department of Buildings.

The ordinance, the 2022 Energy Transformation Code, would require that all new homes and apartments be wired and ready for easy installation of electric water heaters, clothing dryers and ovens, starting in January.

The ordinance also prohibits new decorative gas lighting, of the kind seen in outdoor lanterns.

The proposed ordinance marks the first time that the city’s energy-efficient construction requirements, which are updated every few years, would encourage equipment types and energy sources that reduce greenhouse emissions, according to the mayor’s office.

“This is a big first step,” said Grant Ullrich, managing deputy commissioner of the buildings department.

Although a lot of the buzz around electrification centers on electric cars, buildings account for about 40% of energy use in the United States, and experts say that building electrification can play an important role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and staving off the worst effects of climate change.

New York has banned natural gas heating and stoves in new buildings, and Los Angeles has passed a ban on most gas appliances in new construction, with a timetable yet to be determined.

The Chicago measure, which could be considered by the full City Council in July, would make electric options more accessible to owners of new homes, who wouldn’t have to worry about opening walls or upgrading their electric systems if they wanted to opt for electric appliances and equipment.

“This sets us on a really good path for what’s minimum for Chicago,” said Katie Kaluzny, associate director of Illinois Green Alliance, a nonprofit that promotes green buildings and sustainability.

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“While all electric isn’t required, it makes a builder give a second thought to that. It makes you assess whether you want to build both infrastructures. In some cases, gas will still make sense, and that transition can happen later, but at least that resident — or that homeowner, or that tenant — would be ready to do that if and when that time came,” Kaluzny said.

The proposed code would also require that a subset of new commercial buildings — many of them warehouses — be designed with roofs capable of supporting the future installation of solar panels.

New warehouses have been going up in the last few years, some for e-commerce, and Ullrich expects that trend to continue.

He said that many of these buildings are well-suited to solar, with flat roofs and relatively low heights, which make it easier to engineer for wind resistance.

Mike Cwienkala, president of the board of directors of the Chicagoland Associated General Contractors, said his organization had reviewed the electric and solar readiness provisions of the proposed ordinance.

“These (are) clear steps the building industry can and should be taking to further a sustainable building infrastructure,” he said.

“This will increase costs on construction projects — and construction costs are already facing unprecedented price escalation over the past couple of years,” Cwienkala said. “However, these added costs should be viewed as investments into these projects, because they will help reduce the life cycle costs of buildings and add value to the properties.”

The proposed ordinance’s solar and electrification readiness provisions would go into effect in January.

In addition, the ordinance would include the adoption of the new 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. And the new code represents a 9.4% energy savings over 2018.

Updated by the International Code Council every three years, the international code establishes minimum requirements for energy-efficient buildings. It addresses cost, energy usage, use of natural resources and the environmental effects of energy usage.

“It’s a pretty significant jump in the energy efficiency of those buildings — so (we’re) reducing energy usage, which saves money for the future building occupants for the life of that building,” said Ullrich.

The energy conservation code requirements would apply to new building permit applications starting Sept. 1.

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