City of Boston Buildings Policy Briefing Event Summary


On June 8th, Alison Brizius, the Commissioner of the City of Boston’s Department of the Environment, presented an overview of the multiple regulations and code requirements that apply to new and existing large commercial buildings in Boston. This meeting was convened and facilitated by Yve Torrie, A Better City’s Director of Climate, Energy & Resilience, in response to member questions and concerns regarding the number of different requirements being adopted by both the City and Commonwealth. What follows is a summary of the main messages and themes of the presentation and subsequent discussion.

  • The building policy landscape in Boston (and in Massachusetts more generally) is complicated:
    • Policies at both the state and City level are proceeding through different mechanisms, different authorities, and on different timeframes.
    • Implemented thoughtfully, these policies have the potential to be transformative and drive significant investment in building decarbonization. Done poorly and without consideration for interactive effects, there is the potential for conflicting pathways, unintended consequences, and excessive administrative burden.
    • The City has been working hard to engage and coordinate with the different state offices engaged in building decarbonization policy in the Commonwealth.
  • The City is pursuing two sets of strategies in its building decarbonization policies for existing and new buildings.
    • BERDO for Existing buildings:
      • As 85% of the buildings that will be standing in 2050 exist today, the City is in the process of working through regulations for BERDO 2.0, a building performance standard for existing buildings over 20,000 square feet.
    • The new data reporting and verification requirements associated with BERDO 2.0 are designed to gather data immediately. This building performance data will be used to establish carbon targets that decrease over time.
      • Using real building performance data is key to establishing credible targets that consider the current performance of Boston’s covered buildings.
      • Theoretical or modeled building performance, even when rigorously performed, often diverges significantly from observed building energy consumption.
    • The BERDO Review Board will be a key body charged with ensuring that BERDO compliance includes flexibility mechanisms that are transparent yet maintain the overall rigor and intent of the City's existing buildings Ordinance.
      • Six of the nine Review Board members have already been fully confirmed and the remaining three are expected to be finalized in the coming weeks. Existing members are already being briefed by Environment Department staff.
      • Summer 2023 will be extremely busy as the Phase 3 BERDO 2.0 regulations that relate to portfolios, individual compliance schedules, hardship compliance plans, compliance with emissions standards, the Equitable Emissions Investment Fund, and fines and enforcement, are developed. The goal is that public comments, revisions, and voting will be completed by the end of 2023.
    • The City of Boston is seeking feedback and collaboration from ABC members on several key issues:
      • Defining "portfolios" – the City acknowledges that building owners have a more nuanced understanding of how the commercial real estate industry structures financial and legal entities that own and manage the buildings that must comply with BERDO.
      • Hardship compliance plans and schedules – the definition of "hardship" was developed not just with financial hardship in mind. There may be unique situations and particular building types that do not fit into the targets under BERDO, and the City is interested in better understanding these outliers.
      • New buildings:
        • New buildings in Boston will largely be addressed through code compliance at a state level. As a Green Community, Boston’s new buildings fall under the updated Stretch Energy Code that comes into effect for commercial buildings in July 2023. Updates include heating and cooling demand reduction (envelope and air leakage testing, ventilation energy recovery and mitigating thermal bridges), direct regulation of heating and cooling demand, additional stringency on envelope backstop, electrification of space heating, and EV ready parking to name a few. Boston also recently adopted the Opt-In Specialized Stretch Energy Code, that is expected to come into effect in January 2024. The Specialized Stretch Energy Code for commercial buildings (except multifamily) requires new buildings to meet one of three code compliance pathways:
      • All-electric: All stretch code efficiency requirements are to be met.
      • Passive House: All passive house and stretch code requirements are to be met. Any fossil fuel use must be pre-wired for electrification.
      • 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.
      • Additionally, multifamily properties are required to meet Passive house standards in January 2024.
        • A summary of the updated Stretch Energy Code and the Specialized Stretch Energy Code can be found here.
      • The City of Boston has paused efforts regarding the development and implementation of Zero Net Carbon Zoning for new construction pending the outcome of the State's Fossil Fuel Free Municipal pilot program.
        • While Boston is not on the list of 10 priority communities named in legislation, the city intends to apply this fall for consideration, should one of the ten communities withdraw from the initiative. They will hear if they are successful by March 2024.
        • The City recognized the potential for redundancy and confusion in pursuing both the Fossil Fuel Free Municipal pilot program and a Zero Net Carbon Zoning effort but may restart the zoning effort after the outcome of the Fossil Fuel Free municipalities are announced.
      • The City is committed to moving forward aggressively to promote the decarbonization of its built environment. It recognizes that these efforts impose administrative and investment costs on property owners and is committed to working with property owners to develop mechanisms which reasonably accommodate different circumstances and timeframes.

For members who would like a recording of this event, please contact Yve Torrie.

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