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New Resources: Understanding Your Building’s Path to Carbon Neutral

Buildings are one of the largest and fastest growing sources of climate pollution in Seattle, responsible for more than one-third of our greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions pollute our air, accelerate climate change, and harm people’s health and the environment, disproportionately impacting communities of color and people with lower incomes. Many U.S. cities, including Seattle, are developing Building Performance Standards (BPS) that set long term targets on climate-polluting emissions from buildings. To help building owners get started, OSE has developed new case studies, most of which include cost estimates.  

Large Commercial & Multifamily Buildings

While every building is unique, most large nonresidential and multifamily buildings can use these steps to guide energy efficiency, emissions reductions, and electrification efforts. It starts with an audit, gets low to no-cost savings through a Building Tune-Up, followed by new controls and energy efficiency actions. These initial steps prepare the building for the most cost-effective upgrades of equipment to electric.

Mid-Size Office Buildings

Seattle has about 75 midsize post-war (built between 1946 and 1979) office buildings, making them an ideal pilot for exploring steps to achieve net-zero emissions. In this Mid-size Office Building concept plan, a complete building electrification, including replacing the 50-year-old gas-fired water heater and boiler could reduce energy use 59% and emissions 92%. Estimated total plan costs were $17.70/ft2 and a costly electric service upgrade would likely be avoided.

City-Owned Buildings

As called for in the 2021 Driving Accelerated Climate Action Executive Order, all City-owned buildings must operate without fossil fuels by 2035. A municipal buildings case study shares lessons learned and project highlights from 30 electrification projects underway or complete. A full electrification of The Brig recreation building at Magnuson Park reduced that building’s annual emissions 66% at an incremental cost (over replacing with a gas system) of $300,000.

Case Study: Stewart Manor Affordable Housing

Many buildings have early opportunities to change to electric as was the case in a concept plan developed for Seattle Housing Authority’s Stewart Manor Apartments. In this pilot, swapping out existing gas water heating system to electric heat pump (est. $4.15/ ft2) could reduce energy use 13% and was operating cost neutral. A straightforward and inexpensive (est. $0.20/ft2) upgrade from electric baseboard to a ductless heat pump in the building’s community room would provide an easy-to-access, on-site cooling room to help residents cope with dangerous heat emergencies like Seattle had in June 2021. Housing Development Consortium’s (HDC) has formed an affordable housing BPS task force to understand the impacts a new BPS policy may have on affordable housing.

Case Study: Washington State Services for the Blind

The State of Washington Department of Enterprise Services (DES) recently completed a full building renewal at this 1950’s era building, including a new electric heat pump HVAC system instead of replacing the chiller and gas boiler and the remaining systems later. While more expensive upfront, DES’s approach will result in a lower total cost of ownership over a 30-year timespan.

Learn more about Building Performance standards at and share your own story with us at