Zoning and Planning Committee approves electrification ordinance

Newton’s Zoning and Planning Committee passed a new measure Monday night that would require the complete electrification of newly constructed buildings and buildings undergoing extensive renovations.

“Our electrification code is just bringing us to the place where Newton can actually make a difference in climate change,” Ward 2 Councilor-at-Large Susan Albright said.

The ordinance is pursuant to Newton’s participation in the state’s Municipal Fossil Fuel Free Building Demonstration Program, which is referred to as the 10 communities program, and states private properties undergoing renovations to more than 50 percent of the building or adding more than 1,000 square feet must be completely electrified.

While it must first receive approval from the state, the measure would go into effect Jan. 1, 2025, which the committee decided on intentionally to give developers enough time to transition to the ordinance.

“It is really imposing a new regime on the development community and builders, and we didn’t see a reason to put any more pressure on than necessary,” said Ann Berwick, co-director of climate and sustainability for Newton.

According to Albright, one concern community members have raised is what this ordinance means for the usage of gas stoves. Albright said if renovations to a home exceed 50 percent in areas excluding the kitchen, homeowners still must switch their stoves from gas to electric. 

“One thing that I learned this weekend, which I had no knowledge of, is that the gas stove tops that we all love leak gas and are causing asthma in our children,” Albright said. “Not only is it a good thing to do it for the climate, but it’s a good thing to replace it for our health.”

Nevertheless, Ward 1 Councilor-at-Large Alison Leary expressed that people who wish to keep their gas stoves may do so by reducing the extent of their home renovations.

“It only impacts people if they go do the full renovation,” Leary said. “They could do something a little differently if they really wanted to keep their gas stove—there’s a way around it by simply not going to the point of 1,000 square feet or the 50 percent.”

One exemption to the ordinance discussed by the committee was historic properties, whose owners can seek approval from the Newton Historical Commission.

“[Requests to the commission] would have to state the reason why it is exempt from the energy code, so if it was going to demolish or ruin this building’s quality and historic nature,” Deputy Commissioner Anthony Ciccariello said.

Albright said she feels optimistic about the measure’s effectiveness in mitigating the city’s impact on climate change.

“I’m proud that we’re coming to the place where Newton can make this difference,” Albright said.