JPNC Housing & Development discusses building electrification

The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council Housing & Development Committee met virtually via Zoom on April 21, where a presentation was made by Aidan Foley about building electrification as an alternative to gas.

The Committee has discussed this issue before but chair Carolyn Royce said that now is a good time to delve into further discussion, as Article 80 projects—what the Committee usually focuses on— are put on hold due to COVID-19.

Foley said that aside from the environmental impacts of having a gas stove or heating system in a home can have serious negative impacts on health. Foley said that using gas appliances and heating in the home can increase the risk of asthma in children by 42 percent.  

Andee Krasner, JP resident and a Public Health Consultant at Physicians for Social Responsibility, said that when emissions from gas furnaces make their way into neighborhoods, they cause a lot more pollution than electric heating sources do. 

Over the past six months, Foley said he has been studying Brookline’s process of requiring the majority of new buildings to be electric only. In Brookline, he said, with the exception of buildings over 15,000 square feet, could be made electric with a similar cost to gas. Buildings like medical and laboratory buildings are exempt from the rule. 

“The expectation in the environmental professions,” Foley said, “is that at some point in the next several decades,” there will be a ban on gas or “excessive taxes” implemented for its use.  

JP resident Cynthia Bainton said that she was “very in favor of having new buildings be electrified.” 

Others at the meeting agreed that electric is the way to go long-term, but some were concerned about the up front cost and being equitable with new buildings. 

Foley said that Bookline has some “good resources” on first cost, and Krasner said that if a building is being designed from the ground up it is not more expensive to use electric rather than gas. Retrofitting an existing building to become electrified is much more costly. 

Neighbor James Michel said that additional costs might be incurred up front in paying for more insulation, but in the long run it will be more cost-effective as buildings will be able to hold their temperature for days. He said he came to the meeting to “advocate that this group gets on board” with the idea of supporting electrification. 

There was a suggestion made to have nonproftis and developers in on a future discussion to discuss the challenges and advocacy opportunities for several groups to work together on this issue. 

Royce also said that the overall sustainability needs to be thought about, including water, HVAC, and the reliability of electric systems. Krasner said that insulation is the place to start, as one would “have to have an energy efficient building first and foremost,” she said. “The energy we don’t use is the greenest energy.” She also said that a building with smaller or fewer windows is more energy efficient than one with so much glass on the outside. 

“Nothing is happening Article 80-wise,” Royce said. “This is a good time to focus on some kind of guidelines for our committee that we can advocate for.” She said a focus on individual and smaller housing would be a good place to start, and advised those on the committee and others to look at what Brookline is doing. The Committee also has suggestions about sustainability from prior discussions, so all of this will help propel the conversation forward. 

Royce suggested another meeting in May, which will probably also be a virtual one. “I look forward to continuing the discussion,” she said. 

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