San Francisco Department of the Environment

Frequently Asked Questions: All Electric New Construction Ordinance

Why is New Construction required to be All-Electric?

What’s Cleaner -Electricity or Gas? 

Does All-Electric Support Social Equity?

How can I get technical assistance with All-Electric design? 

Does San Francisco permit electric transformers in Sidewalk Vaults?

How can I learn more about All-Electric Construction?

Is All-Electric New Construction cost effective?

Is the grid ready for All-Electric buildings?

Where can I get an electric heater?

What are Heat Pumps and Heat Pump Water Heaters? What are their advantages?

What are the benefits of cooking with electricity as opposed to gas?

Are propane outdoor grills and firepits allowed in San Francisco new construction?

 

Why is New Construction required to be All-Electric?

The All-Electric New Construction Ordinance was informed by research and findings of a Zero Emission Buildings Taskforce. Natural gas poses risks to the health and safety of San Franciscans, as well as to the climate. Based on local All-Electric projects and significant research, All-Electric design was demonstrated to be a feasible and cost-effective way to reduce or eliminate risks posed by natural gas.

 

What’s Cleaner – Electricity or Gas?

Electricity is cleaner today, and will continue getting cleaner. Carbon emissions and other pollution from electricity generation are declining as the supply of renewable electricity increases.  Exposure to the pollutants produced by appliances that burn natural gas has been linked to asthma in children, respiratory illness, cardiovascular disease, and premature death. Gas is responsible for more than 80% of carbon emissions from buildings in San Francisco. All-Electric construction eliminates local indoor and outdoor air pollution from burning natural gas, reduces air pollution overall.

 

Does All-Electric support social equity?

Yes. Low-income communities and communities of color spend a disproportionate portion of their income on energy, and more frequently suffer from asthma in children, respiratory illness, cardiovascular disease, and premature death associated with the pollutants from combustion of gas indoors and outdoors. Affordable housing has led the adoption of all-electric technologies in San Francisco due to their efficiency, safety, and equivalent or lower total cost in new construction.

 

How can I get technical assistance with All-Electric design?

The Department of Building Inspection (DBI) maintains several helpful resources, including:  

 

Does San Francisco permit electric transformers in Sidewalk Vaults?

Installation of electric transformer vaults in the public rights-of-way (streets, sidewalks) is rarely allowed. There are many competing uses for public land, so electric transformers generally must be located on private property.  Affordable housing projects and sites with unusual constraints may apply for exceptions. Requests for consideration are reviewed by the Street Design Advisory Team (SDAT), after an application is made to the Department of Public Works.  

 

How can I learn more about All-Electric Construction?

For architects, engineers, and contractors, training in All-Electric design and construction is available from many sources in the Bay Area. Dept of Environment maintains a consolidated list of live and recorded options - nearly all available free of charge.  Intended audiences and level of detail vary, from courses focused on Energy Code compliance, to specific applications – such as heat pumps or commercial kitchen equipment, to policy. Some are intended for architects and engineers working with large buildings and complex systems, while others are geared toward homeowners and residential alterations.  

For people seeking entry to the workforce, San Francisco City College offers coursework in clean energy & construction, design and business development, and partners with the building trades to provide paths to apprenticeship.

 

Is All-Electric New Construction Cost Effective?

Yes.  Studies have consistently found that, in addition to being healthier and more reliable, all-electric is cost-effective in residential and commercial new construction in climate zones across the state - particularly when paired with solar. Real-world examples in San Francisco agree

 

Is the grid ready for All-Electric buildings?

Yes. Since the first dynamo was installed in San Francisco in 1890, electric grids have required maintenance and updates - with or without all-electric buildings, and this process continues. However, whether building new or electrifying an existing building, energy efficient design and generating power on-site with photovoltaics can cut costs of appliances, of electrical service upgrades, and utility bills. Storing renewable energy in batteries can save money and provide resilient backup power. 

 

Where can I get an electric heater?

California Title 24 Part 6 (the State Energy Code) sets efficiency standards in order to save consumers and businesses on utility bills, ensure a reliable power supply, and keep electricity costs reasonable for all. Some devices use far more energy than necessary to do a job - so are not allowed to be installed in California. For example, electric furnaces are available from many sources, and may even have misleading labels, but cost far more to operate than an electric heat pump. Learn more about efficient electric appliances that can help with Energy Code compliance.

 

What are Heat Pumps and Heat Pump Water Heaters? What are their advantages?

Heat pumps and heat pump water heaters use an old technology in an efficient way.  They transfer heat using a refrigerant and compressor system (like a refrigerator) to help heat water or space. Heat pumps and heat pump water heaters are available for any size building. They’re extremely efficient and can save hundreds of dollars per year in energy costs - particularly when paired with solar photovoltaics. 

 

What are the benefits of cooking with electricity as opposed to gas?

Combustion of natural gas emits carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide into kitchens - pollutants that contribute to asthma in children, respiratory illness, cardiovascular disease, and premature death. Electric ranges and cooktops are safer, and do not emit these pollutants.   

The highest-performing modern cooking appliances rely on electric induction.  Electromagnets heat pots and pans directly to the pan, rather than heating the surrounding air, heating faster and with far less energy than an electric element or gas burner. Though they save on the bill, induction appliances can cost more - though in an apples-to-apples comparison, the difference is modest and right-sizing equipment as well as buyer preferences are the primary drivers of purchase cost. 

An instructive powerpoint presentation on the opportunities for All-Electric commercial kitchens can be found here.

 

Are propane outdoor grills and firepits allowed in San Francisco new construction?

The All-Electric New Construction Ordinance prohibits permanent piping for gas or propane, indoors and outdoors. 

In addition, California Fire Code Section 308 strictly limits open flame within 10 feet of combustible construction unless fire-sprinkler protected (excluding one and two family dwellings), and prohibits transport of propane containers with capacity larger than one pound in elevators and interior stairways. Infrared electric grills and related technologies are readily available for outdoor cooking.  

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