Chris Gittins, Chair of the Bedford Planning Board, spoke to the April 3 meeting of Mothers Front (Bedford Chapter) about the proposed MA “Specialized” Code that builds upon the Stretch Energy code that the town first adopted in 2011. The updated Stretch Code, adopted January 2023, requires new construction and major renovations to be more energy efficient and requires a portion of the parking to be equipped for electric vehicle (EV) charging. Both codes are aimed at supporting state and local climate goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Gittins favors adoption of the new Specialized Code, but prefaced his presentation by stating firmly that he was speaking for himself as a private citizen and not as a representative of the Planning Board. None of the material he showed in his slides had been approved by the Planning Board.
Gittins says the primary source of CO2 emissions is primarily non-residential in Bedford, predominantly associated with electricity generation, perhaps 40 percent attributable to buildings. On the residential side, electricity, natural gas, and heating oil are the sources of CO2 emissions.
In 2009, Massachusetts enacted a stretch energy code as part of the state building code’s emphasis on energy performance. Bedford adopted the stretch code at ATM in 2011. The Department of Energy Resources (DOER) is the authority designated for making changes in building code and also for spearheading changes to drive energy efficiencies beyond the stretch code.
To date, 300 communities have adopted the Stretch Code and a number have now adopted the Specialized Code. Gittins explained that municipalities must “opt-in” to adopt the more stringent code but the DOER is making the process easy by providing a model warrant and a model by-law that only requires filling in the relevant details. For these reasons, he believes it would be possible for Bedford to place a warrant article on the Fall 2023 Town Meeting warrant. Although he has not verified this with town counsel, he believes adoption would only require a majority vote. DOER recommends a six-month period between a Town Meeting vote in favor of the code and actual enactment, which would be July 1, 2024 if adopted by Bedford.
Gittins acknowledges that there are potential challenges in the Specialized Code and it is critical for stakeholders to be “on board” with it. Bedford’s Code Enforcement officer, for example, would be charged with overseeing its implementation. Builders and developers also need to be prepared for changes in the way they conduct their businesses.
One member of Mothers Out Front called attention to a recent article in The Bedford Citizen (written by MOF member Emily Prince) that focused on two all-electric homes now being built in town (https://thebedfordcitizen.org/2023/03/bedfords-housing-market-a-more-sustainable-energy-efficient-future). This is an indication that builders are now stepping up to transition away from fossil fuels toward offering more energy efficient residences.
The Specialized Code would have application to residences greater than 4,000 square feet. In answer to a question, Gittins observed that ADUs would most likely not be affected, unless attached to a home that was already near the 4,000-square-foot limit. The code would probably have impact on multi-family dwellings such as those proposed to be built in MBTA locations.
Individual members of MOF are already taking steps to make their homes more energy efficient and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One in the audience remarked that during the recent bitterly cold snap in Bedford, her heat pump provided adequate heat for the home without the need for electric backup.
When asked what they could do to move the Specialized Code toward a Town Meeting vote, Gittins urged members to contact the Planning Department and to speak out in favor of adoption. Neither the Select Board nor the Planning Board has yet set their priorities for the year 2023-24, so this is the opportunity for citizens to help shape the agenda.
Here are a couple of key questions/answers:
• Does the Municipal Opt-In Specialized Code apply to existing structures? No, the Municipal Opt-In Specialized Code applies only to new construction and not to existing structures. Additions and renovations, depending on size, are regulated by the Updated Stretch Code and Base Code.
• What are the stricter provisions required by the Municipal Opt-In Specialized Code? All Mixed-Fuel Residential and Commercial buildings must provide pre-wiring for electric space heating, electric water heating, and electric appliances. This will accelerate the clean energy transition and avoid cost premiums to convert these buildings to all-electric in the future.
• Mixed-Fuel Residential buildings greater than 4,000 square feet (i.e., large homes) must achieve HERS (Home Energy Rating System) 0 or PHIUS ZERO, meeting energy efficiency requirements prior to renewable energy offsets. These exemplary performance standards encourage large homes to “go All-Electric.”
• Starting July 1, 2024, multi-family residential buildings greater than 12,000 square feet must achieve precertification to Passive House Standards. Even without this code requirement, many affordable housing projects currently being developed in MA are being designed to meet this standard.
For those interested in the details on the Stretch and Specialized Codes, here are a couple of websites: