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Chicago's New Energy Conservation Code Means Big Changes

2022 1201 Ideas Post
Dec 01, 2022
Ed Feibel, Steven Vance

In one month, developers and building owners will have to create more energy-efficient buildings to help the city become a more climate-change-resilient place. Additional provisions of Chicago's Energy Conservation Code will take effect on January 1, 2023, that have significant impacts on the design and construction of certain commercial buildings, mixed-use buildings, and small and large residential projects.

Some of the changes that apply to building permit applications submitted on or after January 1, 2023, include:

  • Residential buildings that will have gas-fueled appliances will also have to have outlets, wiring, and panels that can accommodate the replacement of those appliances' electricity-powered equivalents. This is the city's strongest signal so far to discourage the use of gas to power stoves, ovens, heaters, and clothes dryers.
  • Large buildings with flat roofs (7,500 sq. ft. footprint and a height of 60’-0” or less) will have to design and build the roofs to accommodate a future installation of solar panels (which are not required by this code). This includes a requirement that at least 40% of the roof area be designated as a “solar-ready zone” and must be designed to accommodate an additional dead load of at least 5 lbs. per sq. ft.
  • Balconies will need to meet new construction standards to ensure that interior heated air isn't radiated out of the building and cold outdoor air temperatures aren't transferred into the building. Generally, this means that a balcony is provided with either continuous insulation or is constructed with a thermal break.

These standards are in addition to standards that took effect on November 1, 2022, which we described in a previous post.

If the solar-ready roof was in effect for 2022, a number of buildings would have had to comply. Chicago Cityscape, a real estate data portal, sifted through building permits and found, for example, seven warehouses that met next year's code standards.

The permit data for residential projects isn't robust enough to determine whether new construction housing included gas-fueled or electric appliances. However, we can say from knowledge about modular construction that there were 41 all-electric single-detached and two-unit townhouses – built by two local modular housing companies – permitted in Chicago, all on the West Side.

A likely impact of the appliances part of the new code will be, rather than building a gas line and unused electrical systems, a quicker migration to installing electric stoves, heaters, and dryers.

There are multiple incentives and funding programs, public and private, that can help fund the construction of an all-electric house or a solar-ready roof (with solar panels). ComEd has an Electric Homes program and the City of Chicago administers "C-PACE" financing for commercial and industrial energy efficiency projects.

Contact a MAPS architect or engineer to learn about the additional standards of each of the new code's requirements, including the documentation requirements and reserving space for wiring, panel connections, and batteries.