Green revolution on the horizon?: Northampton eyes new building code that would discourage fossil fuel use

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 07-09-2023 9:55 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A green revolution may soon be coming for city buildings as the City Council eyes adoption of a new building code that discourages the use of fossil fuels at the same time as nonprofit affordable home developers are constructing all-electric homes.

The City Council last month voted to advance a proposed order to adopt the so-called specialized stretch code. Advocated by the state, the code is designed to ensure new construction that is consistent with the state’s goals to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, according to the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources.

The building code would not ban the future use of fossil fuels completely, but any new building using fossil fuels would require on-site solar installations and wiring that would enable the building to switch to being all-electric if needed at a future date, according to the DOER.

The order for Northampton to adopt the building code is sponsored by Councilors Rachel Maiore of Ward 7, Alex Jarrett of Ward 5 and Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra.

Though developers across the state have cited concerns that such codes would further increase the costs of building in the state, Maiore argued at the June 15 council meeting that adopting the measure could be cost-effective for the city.

“It’s the kind of writing on the wall, the stuff we’re going to have to do,” Maiore said. “If we pre-electrify buildings now, we won’t have to retrofit them, so there’s savings there, there’s some vision there, and I think we will have it easier down the road.”

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Beyond the plate: New restaurant Lao Hu Tong aims to bring Chinese food, culture to Amherst
Fan base conflicted on UMass’ decision to leave Atlantic 10, move to the MAC
Amherst Regional School budget cutting 10 teachers runs into buzz saw of opposition
Easthampton to use $100K to assess Town Lodging House site for affordable housing; neighbors upset with plans
Northampton first in WMass to back call for Gaza cease-fire
Former Easthampton school paraeducator charged with child sexual assault

The council advanced the order to its Committee on Legislative Matters, which will discuss the idea in more detail before deciding whether to send it back to the full council with a positive recommendation. Other cities across the state, such as Brookline and Watertown, have already adopted the building code.

New projects in pipeline

Affordable housing developers in Northampton are also looking to be proactive in adopting all-electric homes, bolstered by city requirements when donating land for affordable housing.

Representatives from the Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity recently met with other state affiliates of the affordable housing nonprofit last week after the organization received a grant from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center through its EmPower program.

The goal of the grant is to provide access to green and renewable technologies for low-income homeowners, said Megan McDonough, Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity executive director.

“We have been building energy-efficient homes for a number of years here in the Pioneer Valley, and a number of other Habitat affiliates throughout the state also build energy-efficient homes,” McDonough said. “We wanted to see if we could pool our knowledge and convene affiliates with some expert consulting advice to make sure that we’re doing all the best practices to make the best energy-efficient homes that we can.”

Habitat for Humanity also intends to survey current low-income residents living in all-electric homes, sharing the best practices for living in such homes and hoping some homes take advantage of incentives and rebates through the Mass Save program.

“This will be, in the not-too-distant future, the industry standard for all residential construction,” McDonough said. “We are finding the intersection between affordability and sustainability for long-term stability for families and communities.”

McDonough said that Northampton has also incentivized the organization to build sustainably, donating land to Habitat for Humanity with the conditions that affordable housing built on the land must be all-electric. An ongoing affordable housing project on 278 Burts Pit Road is one such property.

“Building all-electric isn’t new for us,” McDonough said. “But construction is an industry where you can always learn something.”

Another proposed affordable housing building, to be located at 27 Crafts Ave. and built by the Valley Community Development Corp., is also set to be all-electric. The city donated the property in 2022 to Valley CDC, with a request to develop it into affordable housing. That project is currently in the permitting phase, with construction scheduled to begin in 2026.

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.

]]>