Building Decarbonization Reading Round-Up

By Katie Bartolotta

Posted April 12, 2021

To meet our local, national, and global emissions targets requires that we transition our built environment away from carbon-based energy, or fossil fuels. Building decarbonization, if planned and implemented strategically, can help improve the quality of the housing stock, improve indoor and outdoor air quality and health, while also reducing the energy utility costs that overburden too many families today. It can also create new local industries and provide new pathways to quality jobs. Additionally, decarbonized buildings can be more resilient against the local impacts of climate change.

As we explore the opportunities and challenges to building decarbonization in our region, we’ve rounded up a few highlights from local and national partners and how these conversations connect to the work happening here on the ground.

“Building Back Better” Buildings

Lauren Urbanek & Khalil Shahyd | Natural Resources Defense Council Expert Blog | April 1, 2021

In this blog post, Lauren Urbanek and Khalil Shayhd outline some of the key features of President Biden’s American Jobs Plan, which he debuted in Pittsburgh in late March. 

The $2 trillion plan includes infrastructure investments that will help combat the climate crisis, address racial inequity, and speed up the economic recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Specifically, the plan calls for “affordable, resilient, accessible, energy efficient, and electrified housing units” with funds to match the scale of the effort. The plan addresses both new construction and existing buildings and homes.

The plan, while ambitious and in line with Green Building United’s ongoing efforts to explore the opportunities and barriers for healthy home repairs and equitable electrification, still needs Congress to negotiate details with the Administration and pass the bill.

For more: Khalil Shayhd is presenting at our May 21 event What Federal Leadership on Climate and Housing Means for Philadelphia with the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations (PACDC.) Join us for a presentation and discussion on the federal government’s new priorities and how they might impact the City of Philadelphia.

Transitioning away from fossil fuels means transitioning away from housing injustice

Editorial Board | Philadelphia Inquirer | April 9, 2021 

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s editorial board outlines clearly and succinctly the opportunity for climate action to address the persistent challenge of quality housing.  

The vast majority of Philadelphia’s carbon emissions – 75 percent – are a result of buildings and the energy they use. Many thousands of homes in Philadelphia are in a state of disrepair making them more difficult and expensive to heat and cool. Relatedly, Philadelphians are among the most energy burdened in the county, meaning they spend a high percentage of their household income on energy costs. Climate actions like weatherizing and electrifying homes serve the dual purpose of alleviating the burden of safe and healthy homes for Philadelphians while lowering emissions.

Most importantly, many of the climate interventions that Philadelphians are pursuing now are both insufficient – rooftop solar on every home would not achieve our climate goals – and inaccessible, in that only affluent homeowners can afford to make them. It is essential that funds from the American Rescue Plan and the potential revenues from the Biden administration’s American Jobs Plan and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative be focused on ensuring that low income Philadelphians are prioritized in the transition to affordable, efficient, healthy, and climate-resilient homes.

For more: The Housing Equity Repairs and Electrification for Climate Justice (HERE4CJ) Coalition is bringing together community members, environmental and climate justice leaders, housing rights advocates, building engineers, workforce development partners, CDC implementers, and finance experts to create the case for why electrification + home repairs is critical for the health, environment, and economy of Philadelphians and is an essential anti-displacement strategy. The working group’s technical research for building electrification, workforce development research and strategies, long-term financing and policy solutions, and pilot projects for analysis and lessons learned is designed to help Philadelphia understand how to best deploy resources at scale to address dual strategy of housing and climate action.


US building codes need a major retrofit to meet climate goals and spare consumers

Sara Baldwin | Utility Dive | April 7, 2021 

In this opinion piece, Sara Baldwin, the electrification policy director at Energy Innovation,  covers both the importance of building codes in achieving climate goals, cost savings, and health benefits as well as how the code development process falls short of achieving the full potential of these outcomes.

Recently, the International Codes Council (ICC), the nonprofit entity that facilitates the code development process, delivered a major blow to the process as we know it. Government voters who overwhelmingly voted to approve provisions in line with climate action goals including all-electric building requirements saw some of their measures overturned alongside a change to the development process that limits their level of participation in the future.

Baldwin uses this development to propose some broad-based solutions to improve the code development process and bring building codes into alignment with climate goals. She suggests starting a new code development process with building decarbonization as an explicit goal with New Building Institute’s Building Decarbonization Code as a starting point for discussion. What’s more, she advocates for increased transparency and oversight in code development, a strong national appliance standard, electrification programs with an emphasis on equity and resilience, and increasing building code trainings.

For more: Green Building United is a provider of energy codes trainings. See our energy code training page for more than 20 hours of free training sessions on the 2018 International Energy Conservation Codes – Commercial Provisions.

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