NEW YORK STATE — It has been a long haul, members said, but they did it. The Mid-Hudson Regional Sustainability Coalition (MHRSC), a group of over 90 stakeholders representing diverse …
NEW YORK STATE — It has been a long haul, members said, but they did it. The Mid-Hudson Regional Sustainability Coalition (MHRSC), a group of over 90 stakeholders representing diverse organizations, powered through six months of in-depth, biweekly meetings goal of fully understanding the draft scoping plan for implementing the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA).
The comments and concerns all matter. But materials and buildings eat up the largest chunk of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions—32 percent.
It’s a large bite. Let’s take a look.
Transforming the state’s building stock—some of it quite old—to comply with the CLCPA mandate is arguably the most difficult aspect of the transition. But it would be worth it, given the emissions involved.
What would help? Better marketing, state and utility incentive programs, and creating new, more scalable financing mechanisms, the coalition said.
New building codes would make a big difference. A highly efficient state energy code for new construction, both residential and commercial, could call for highly insulated buildings. Make construction electric-ready in a sustainable way for air conditioning, hot water, cooking and dryers.
“Better energy codes are essential to better buildings,” the coalition said.
At the same time, the MHRSC recognized that it can be difficult to get contractors to comply with the current energy code (much less a changed one) and so the new codes will be tough to enforce. Education and support are needed. Contractors will need to be trained. But some municipalities have already pulled it off; they could help struggling towns.
Until then, towns could use NYStretch. That would require new buildings and substantial retrofits to adhere to improved insulation, air sealing and other energy standards compared to the current code. Homes built to that code could save about 19 percent in total annual energy costs, would be more healthy, and might have better resale value.
Don’t think your municipality would go for it? Permits for all-new HVAC units could require cold-climate-rated heat pumps. In a new building, the builder could still install fossil fuel heat, but would not have to. This could be more politically palatable than a ban and would also help a little with the retrofit market, when a homeowner wants to add A/C.
Codes should also deal with embodied carbon in building materials. Embodied carbon includes all the emissions that come from the mining, harvesting, processing, manufacturing, transportation and installation of the products and materials, plus the emissions that happen when you dispose of the materials.
Energy-efficiency upgrade programs and building codes should lean toward low-embodied-carbon materials. Incorporate those preferences into formulae and cost-effectiveness calculations.
Timber can be sustainably harvested; hempcrete and low-carbon concrete can be used.
Tackle any hazardous materials used in building weatherization. Get rid of vinyl siding, “luxury vinyl tile,” vinyl wall coverings and so on. “What is not considered is the effect on worker and occupant health, in both handling these materials and living in a built environment that is off-gassing toxins,” the MHRSC said.
Refrigerants need to be monitored. Leaks comprise 1.4 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, and they’re sneaky. What’s seeping out of our elderly HVAC systems?
Many of the remedies proposed call for increased electricity use. That too will need to be managed. Large buildings will need to be efficient, so as not to put undue stress on the grid. Building design can use smart controls, energy storage and other load-flexibility measures. That will improve efficiency and sustainability and could reduce operating costs. Smart ceiling fans, appliances that interact with the grid to be used at less-loaded times, and other measures can cut commercial and residential energy use by 10 percent by 2040.
Information from the Mid-Hudson Regional Sustainability Coalition.
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