Massachusetts is getting a Net Zero Stretch Code in 2022: How strong will it be?

As of April 2022,the state Department of Energy Resources (DOER) is working on a new opt-in stretch energy code that must be ready by December, 2022.

This Net Zero Stretch Code is critical if the state is to meet its climate change goals. There have been 5 virtual community meetings around the state on what this new building code should contain – but they were announced just days in advance, with minimal outreach to environmental justice (EJ) community residents and officials. EJ communities will be among the most affected by any change in the building code.

Why is this important to Arlington?

Greenhouse gas emissions from buildings are an important driver of climate change. For Massachusetts as a whole, buildings produce about 27% of emissions. The easiest and most effective way to start reducing this impact is by changing our building codes.

Building codes have always been important for safety and health. Now, we also need them to combat climate change. Massachusetts recognized this crucial role for building codes in the NextGen Roadmap bill signed by Gov. Baker in March, 2021.

Chapter 8 of the Acts of 2021 provides that the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) will adopt a municipal opt-in specialized stretch energy code within 18 months of the law’s passage, with at least five public hearings to be held in the interim. The updated municipal opt-in stretch energy code will include net-zero building performance standards and will define a net-zero building.

from Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Initiatives: What Real Estate Professionals Should Know

However, building codes are set at the state level. Cities and towns cannot alter them. That’s why Arlington’s historic Clean Heat Bylaw (see Article 10, page 6 in the bylaw link), passed at the 2021 Town Meeting, had to be sent to the legislature for special authorization (See H.3750, Arlington’s Home Rule Petition). To date, that special authorization has not been issued. This is why we want DOER to issue a strong Net Zero Stretch Code, one that allows every community that is ready to require fossil-fuel free new construction and implement other, available strong measures to make new construction and major rehabilitations net zero.

Massachusetts issued its first opt-in “stretch code” in 2009, providing more stringent environmental requirements than the base code. Arlington was an early adopter, opting in in 2010. DOER periodically updates this opt-in stretch code, most recently in 2017. Most Massachusetts towns and cities have adopted this 2017 code but, at this point, it’s no longer a stretch because of rapidly improving building technology. In fact, the Massachusetts opt-in stretch code does not even try to meet our statewide mandate to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. DOER is currently engaged in updating the 2017 stretch code, but its initial proposals are far short of what is required.

The Massachusetts legislature intended to correct this omission and, in March, 2021, despite Governor Baker’s objections, required DOER to develop a Net Zero Stretch Code by the end of 2022. A strong Net Zero Stretch Code would be a huge step forward in our battle against climate change. It would achieve all that our Clean Heat Bylaw intended and much more. A weak code, however, would bar the way for cities and towns that want to use building projects to fight global warming.

What does a strong Net Zero Stretch Code look like?

Arlington and other communities leading the fight against climate change must speak out in favor of a strong Net Zero Stretch Code that:

  • Applies to all building types, including residential and commercial.
  • Applies to new construction and major renovations
  • Sets high, state-of-the-art energy efficiency standards to minimize greenhouse gas emissions
  • Requires buildings to be 100% electric
  • Requires buildings to be powered by 100% non-combustible-fuel renewable energy (solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal), so that operations are carbon neutral
  • Addresses embodied carbon
  • Requires reporting and other measures to ensure that building systems operate as designed
  • Defines exemptions narrowly and subject them to review as technology changes.
  • Goes into effect without unreasonable delays

It’s up to us to make sure the new Net Zero Stretch Code is a part of the solution, and not a part of the problem.

Therefore Clean Heat for Arlington (and many allies across the state) are working to:

  1. Ensure that the new opt-in Net Zero Stretch Code is as ambitious and well-designed as possible. 
  2. Mobilize community advocates and local decision-makers to learn about net-zero buildings and stretch codes to gain local support and commitments to opting-in to the new stretch code when it is released.

See the tabs on What You Can Do, FAQ’s and other Resources, and Upcoming Events for more information.

What you can do

What you can do now:

  1. Contact your Town Meeting Members. Urge them to read these materials and vote for Warrant Article 73. RESOLUTION / NET ZERO OPT-IN CODE FOR CITIES AND TOWNS. (See Warrant for Annual Town Meeting and scroll down to #73). This resolution endorses the promulgation of a strong and effective Net Zero Stretch Code for the whole state and thus allows Arlington to achieve the ambitious goals of its Net Zero Action Plan.
  2. Regularly check this website for updates including on-line educationals about electrification, legislation, and the Net Zero Stretch Code.
  3. Join us! Clean Heat for Arlington will do ongoing education about decarbonizing buildings and the Net Zero Stretch Code, and we could use help! Email us at cleanheatforarlingtonma@gmail.com OR use the form below to send us your contact information.
  4. Volunteer to help! We can use writers, editors, graphic artists, and more. Email us at cleanheatforarlingtonma@gmail.com OR use the form below to send us your contact information.
  5. Start – or continue – on your own path to net zero. Personal and household changes in energy efficiency and the type of energy used are important and will help drive the systemic shifts needed to achieve Net Zero by 2050 goals. For details, see:

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