Article 29. Home Rule for Clean Heat
"If we want clean air, lower construction costs, savings on our energy bills, and a stable climate for decades to come, we've got to start building for that future."
Olivia Walker, research associate at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
Summary of Article 29
What Article 29 does and does not do:
What Article 29 does
What Article 29 does NOT do
FAQ part 1. Regarding the proposed bylaw
Why is this important?
Why now? Why not let the state and its building code solve this?
Why natural gas is not really clean:
Why electrify our buildings when electricity is partially generated by fossil fuels like natural gas?
Electric buildings produce lower emissions than those directly fueled by gas and oil, because the way we generate electricity is rapidly becoming greener, as utilities incorporate more wind and solar to power the grid (currently 18% renewable in Massachusetts, increasing by 2% each year). This is especially true in Lexington, where most residents have 100% renewable electricity through the Town’s Community Choice Program.
Who will be affected by the proposed bylaw?
Approximately 100 new buildings and major renovations each year.
The expected effective date is no earlier than December 2022.
Exemptions in the article:
Why exempt cooking appliances?
We decided to start with space heating and hot water, which make up 80% of home energy use, and to focus on consensus building.
Although gas cooking is a small part of carbon pollution, many people have already made the switch to induction stove and/or electric grills, and been very happy with their superior performance, speed, ease of control, cleanness, and safety.
Professional chefs are embracing induction stovetop as well: besides better efficiency and temperature control, there's no more worry of stuff caught on fire or sweating over the fire heat.
Another factor we considered was that cooking appliances are a much smaller investment than HVAC or hot water systems, and likely an easier decision to make.
For these reasons, we think many people will choose clean electric cooking technologies, like many people have bought electric cars.
Why exempt life science labs?
The exemption for labs is due to their periodic need for very high ventilation rates and the feasibility of providing that much heated air with a heat pump. It’s not a subsidy for labs; it just reflects the limitation of current technologies.
Why try to pass the home rule and new bylaw at the same time?
It is necessary to provide the state with clarity about what the Town is planning to enact if/when given the ability.
This is consistent with Arlington’s fall 2020 Town Meeting when they overwhelmingly passed two very similar actions with one vote in Nov 2020.
Brookline’s fall 2020 Town Meeting also overwhelmingly passed a similar petition, which included the request to enact a similar bylaw they had previously overwhelmingly passed.
It helps our supportive legislators (which partially overlap with Arlington) argue in favor of this legislation, because there is uniformity and clarity in what multiple towns are looking to accomplish, a petition/home rule AND a bylaw.
Why do we have to “require”? Won’t market forces be enough?
While the state (DOER and MassCEC) and Mass Save have been offering generous incentives, rebates, and interest free loans for homeowners who chose Clean Heat technologies, and various training programs for building professionals and contractors, this is a relatively new and unfamiliar territory to many. Article 29 will accelerate adoption of Clean Heat technologies and reduction of carbon emissions.
How will this affect our ability to build affordable housing?
Neighboring municipalities with decarbonization bylaws and plans:
FAQ part 2. Regarding Clean Heat technologies
Do heat pumps work in New England's climate?
How many buildings in Lexington use heat pumps? What are their experiences?
Installation data from Eversource, based on rebates paid under Mass Save:
Year Central/ducted ASHP Mini-split/ductless ASHP Hot water heat pump
2018 48 84 5
2019 53 107 6
2020 27 125 12
TOTAL 128 316 23
In addition, all recent town construction projects (Hastings, Fire Station, Children's Place, Visitor Center, etc.) and LexHAB homes (Fairview and Farmview) use electric heat pumps for space heating and cooling.
Contact us if you have any questions or would like to share your experience.
Is it affordable to install a heat pump? What do building professionals say?
Cold climate air-source heat pump systems (ccASHP) are affordable and already a popular alternative to fossil fuel heating systems.
Because only one system is needed, rather than a separate furnace and air conditioner, they can be comparable or cheaper to install even before rebates.
“Doing it right the first time” is better than requiring expensive retrofits to these homes later.
Various rebates available (details on the Why Clean Heat? page) will further reduce the cost for ccASHP installation.
Example quote from Net Zero Heating and Air Conditioning (https://netzerohvac.net/), an installer serving Lexington:
Theoretical approx 4500 sq ft home, 2 floors, 1 zone/air handler/furnace for each floor (in basement for 1st floor, in attic for 2nd floor). Includes all ductwork (supply and returns), pads, etc.
Heat pump systems installed: Cost $28,167 (before rebates)
Gas furnace + AC installed: Cost $29,889
Installation costs are further reduced with state rebates and incentives.
How much will it cost to run?
For heating alone, heat pumps cost significantly less than electric baseboards or propane, on par with oil, but somewhat more than natural gas. (Some studies have shown an estimated additional cost compared to gas from $120 to $315 annually).
However, when considering the potential future increase of gas prices and the lower cooling cost of heat pumps versus traditional AC, heat pumps will be on par with gas by 2026.
Many users have found the overall running cost of heat pumps affordable, about a wash compared to natural gas, and lower than oil or propane.
See more details and comparisons on our Why Clean Heat page.
Can our electric grid handle the load?
Yes! Electrical demand is currently declining in New England due to both onsite solar energy generation and gains in energy efficiency through retrofits such as LED light bulbs for streetlights. There are declines in both annual and peak demand, and these declines are expected to continue.
Furthermore, the proposed bylaw will affect such a small fraction of buildings on the grid (<1% turnover in any one year, even if adopted across the entire New England grid territory), that it should not have an appreciable impact on the power grid, which already has year-on-year variation exceeding 1%.
While peak consumption is already a significant challenge to manage, it is currently a summer problem when AC kicks in on hot days. In the winter, the bigger problem is actually natural gas shortages, which should be slightly alleviated by this policy.
Will homes need additional electrical capacity to be all-electric?
No. The capacity needed for new cold climate air-source heat pumps in new homes in the winter is roughly the same as older central ACs in the summer. Ground source heat pumps use even less.
What will happen during power outages with electric heat pumps?
Isn't better insulation more important than electrification?
Both insulation and electrification are important, and we need to do both.
In fact, in order to qualify for MassSave rebates and interest free loan for your heat pump installations, a free energy assessment is required.
Article 29 is limited in the scope of electrification in new buildings and major renovations, which are normally well insulated under current stretch building code. Of course, we know it can be better.
Improving building code insulation standards is important and needs to be addressed either at the state level or in a subsequent warrant article for that specific purpose.
A smoker can exercise and eat healthy, but it's not a substitute for quitting smoking. Better insulation will reduce energy use but cannot replace the benefit of quitting fossil fuels.
Which systems are more resilient?
Is there a list of cold climate air source heat pumps (ccASHP) that work in Massachusetts weather?
NEEP (New England Energy Efficiency Partnerships, located on Hartwell Ave, Lexington) compiled a comprehensive list of ccASHPs: https://ashp.neep.org/#!/product_list/ and you can sort hundreds of products by clicking on list view.
HSPF (Heat Seasonal Performance Factor) is a good indicator of efficiency.
Here is a MrCool video explaining how ccASHPs work in extremely cold weather. The example is a ducted central system. Ductless mini split systems are similar.