Minimum Housing Code Weatherization Ordinance

Minimum Housing Code Weatherization Ordinance

Burlington, Vermont’s new Minimum Housing Code is designed to ensure that rental properties are also properly weatherized to keep tenants warm in the winter, cool in summer, and reduce costs, while helping the city achieve its net zero energy goals.

Why was the Minimum Housing Code updated to include Weatherization?

The comfort and energy efficiency of some Burlington rental buildings can be improved by:

  • increasing insulation levels,
  • reducing excessive air infiltration, and
  • addressing other thermal performance issue.

Tenants pay space heating costs directly in about 85% of Burlington’s rental units, about 60% of Burlington’s residents are renters and about 95% of rental buildings use natural gas for space heating. Burlington is home to many beautiful rental buildings, but many were built decades ago without proper attention to weatherization features. 

The purpose of the Weatherization Ordinance is to promote the wise and efficient use of energy in rental dwellings (including multi-family, single-family and condominiums) by mandating weatherization requirements (in high energy use buildings) through the Minimum Housing Code which is enforced by the Department of Permitting & Inspections (DPI). Technical assistance and incentive packages may be available to help property owners meet these requirements.

The official Ordinance document contains more details including compliance, current applicability, definitions, compliance cost-caps, waivers, enforcement, and penalties. Read the full amended Ordinance document.

What does the ordinance entail? What kind of work must be done to the building?

Weatherization is the process of sealing up drafts to prevent the loss of heat or conditioned inside air to the outside. The most effective weatherization practices include blower door directed air sealing (work is typically done in attics and basements) and then adding insulation in available open cavities and other areas such as, flat attics, slopes-slants, knee walls, exterior walls and basement box sills and walls). The Weatherization Ordinance does not require window or heating system replacement work. The Weatherization Ordinance follows the best practices available to Vermonters from the VGS weatherization program, the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® Program and the Low-Income Weatherization Assistance Program.

Does the Ordinance apply to all residential rental properties?

No. Once fully implemented, the Weatherization Ordinance only applies to high energy use rental buildings where the total space heating usage (all the apartments combined) is above 50,000 BTU/SF/YR (50,000 BTU/SF/YR). In mixed commercial/residential rental buildings, Weatherization Ordinance only applies to the residential rental portion of the building.

Typically, buildings that use more than 50,000 BTU/SF/YR (for space heating) are good candidates for meaningful weatherization upgrades.  For example, a building that is found to be uninsulated, and with excessive air leakage, can easily use more than 100,000 BTU/SF/YR. In contrast, a new building, built to exceed Vermont’s required energy efficiency code, can use under 25,000 BTU/SF/YR.

The Weatherization Ordinance is being implemented in two stages that will determine when a building needs to comply.

  • Stage 1- All residential rental building using 90,000 BTU/SF/YR, or more, need to come into compliance by January 1, 2022, at which point – unless granted a DPI temporary waiver or extension – fines may be issued. It is important to note that all weatherization work must be completed by qualified contractors who are normally in the business of air sealing and insulating buildings. The city recognizes that long waiting lists currently exist for both qualified weatherization contractors and utility incentive programs. Temporary DPI waivers can be granted if owner can document that they are formally on a waiting list with a contractor or a program.
  • Stage 2 – On 1/17/2022, the Burlington City Council approved the following compliance schedule for buildings using between 50,000 – 89,999 BTU/SF/YR:
    • January 1, 2023 applicable to residential rental properties that on an annual basis use 70,000-89,999 BTU/SF/YR for space heating purposes

    • January 1, 2024 applicable to residential rental properties that on an annual basis use 60,000-69,999 BTU/SF/YR for space heating purposes

    • January 1, 2025 applicable to residential rental properties that on an annual basis use 50,000-59,999 BTU/SF/YR for space heating purposes

When will rental property-owners be informed that the Weatherization Ordinance applies to their building(s)?

The DPI-BED has identified the buildings using 90,000 BTU/SF/YR or more and has contacted all the individual property-owners.

Regarding buildings using between 50,000 – 89,999 BTU/SF/YR, now that the City Council has adopted the compliance schedule above, property owners will be informed, as quickly as possible, of the date in which they must comply. DPI will use their normal rental property owner communication channels that are currently used to provide all Code compliance information.

If my property needs to comply, what is my first step?

If you’ve been notified that your property needs to comply, you can begin the compliance process by reviewing the Vermont Gas Systems website to learn about free energy audits, financial incentives and how to find a weatherization contractor. VGS will notify DPI whenever a property has been placed on their program waiting list, then when the energy audit is scheduled and again when the weatherization upgrades have been successfully completed.

Please note that staff has attempted to identify the applicable energy usage of these buildings as accurately as possible. The gas usage can change due to the recent replacement of older (less energy efficient) heating equipment with new heating equipment, required by energy code, to be more energy efficient. This work can result in about 10 to 20% reduction in energy usage depending on the efficiency level of the equipment that was replaced and what was installed. As this is a multi-year compliance schedule, prior to any on-site energy audit, each building’s BTU/SF/YR data will be reevaluated for space heating energy usage accuracy as part of the normal utility weatherization program process as these programs are designed to focus on high energy use buildings.

Where can rental property-owners get more information?

DPI and BED will regularly update their websites to provide further information and resources to property owners. Property owners are also welcomed to send questions about the Weatherization Ordinance to our Energy Services Team.