“When you talk about net zero, it’s not a goal we’re going to achieve in one or two years, it’s decades,” Michael Peevey, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, said in an interview with The New York Times. “But it’s like taking a baby step, and that’s what we’re doing in San Francisco.”
For Mr. Peevey, who is leading San Francisco’s efforts toward net zero homes, the goal is not to eliminate electricity use, but to ramp it up gradually to 80 percent of the electricity that homeowners need. “That’s why we’re still doing solar,” he said. “If we can do that, it’s a good thing to do.”
Net zero homes, as Mr. Peevey describes them, tend to be both unusual and environmentally sound, he explained.
“We’re not in the city of Pacific Heights with a Mercedes on the roof,” he said. “This is going to be a better kind of home, where you have open space, you are talking about creating lots of homes you don’t have to tear down. You’re a friend to the environment. You’re a friend to the people. You’re thinking of people as very important neighbors.”
In fact, a net zero home in San Francisco is already becoming a reality. Today, the city Department of Buildings approved an ordinance that requires all new home construction to be LEED certified.
Leasable market rate condos in the Mission District currently sell for about $3,800 a square foot, according to a report from the Leasing Resource. Over the last year, sales prices increased 1.7 percent. The median price for a two-bedroom in the Mission District increased 10.7 percent to $1,714,700.
When Jacey Nahmias, the S.F. City Attorney’s Innovation Fund Attorney, first heard about the ordinance in May 2017, she began working to mobilize the city.
“What San Francisco is really recognized for is implementing progressive environmental laws to protect the earth,” she said. “And you really are not talking about zero emissions, or pollution, you’re not even talking about that you’re not using electricity. This is about just getting better at how you live.”
Indeed, because houses make up just a portion of carbon emissions, a net zero home is an important initiative for the city in the ongoing fight against climate change.
“I think we can start to see these green buildings that are sustainable and give us the opportunity to make smaller reductions in emissions, and have those lower emissions equated to a market for green buildings,” said Ms. Nahmias.
Net zero homes also encourage innovation. “And every time we do the standard kind of quote-unquote small scale solar panels that are not very efficient, we are not getting much reduction in our overall greenhouse gas emissions,” Ms. Nahmias explained.
The city is taking the initiative of a generation that has gone through “the biggest energy transition in history,” Mr. Peevey said. He added, “These young folks have a better grasp of what the real world is.”
There are a number of net zero projects taking place in San Francisco, as most of the city’s new construction is mandated to be LEED certified. “That is a really big deal,” Mr. Peevey said.
For example, a developer sold 43 homes of a residential complex to include nine net zero homes built to measure at 35-to-38 percent net zero, according to a department of finance report.
“It’s a tangible way to add to the housing supply as well as the net zero homes,” said Ms. Nahmias.
Under the new net zero ordinance, Ms. Nahmias hopes to see more city regulation such as this passed across the board.
“We want to be benchmarking what other cities are doing as well,” she said. “San Francisco really is the last of the great cities when it comes to climate.”