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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Cold, San Francisco? Probably Because You Have No Insulation.

Posted By on Tue, Aug 10, 2010 at 12:59 PM

click to enlarge No insulation in Mr. Freeze's lair either
  • No insulation in Mr. Freeze's lair either
To folks living in actual cold-weather communities, San Franciscans' complaints about our recent chilly spell have something of a Marie Antoinette-level naivete.

Face it, San Francisco: The coldest day out-of-doors here isn't that cold. Period. That being said, you may very well be shivering indoors here, because, under state law, San Francisco apartments need not have any insulation whatsoever.

You couldn't get away with this in states like Michigan or Minnesota; if you failed to properly insulate a building there, the residents could literally freeze to death, re-enact Jack London's To Build a Fire, or heating bills would soon approach national deficit numbers. But, here in "sunny California," you can simply crank up the heat to make up for shoddy or nonexistent insulation. It's expensive, wasteful, and antithetical to a city that considers itself to be "green" -- but you won't end up like Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining.

The laws are not the same for those residing in homes and apartment-dwellers, notes Ed Sweeney, the Department of Building Inspection's deputy director for inspection. State law mandates that those selling a single-family or two-unit home have to go through an energy compliance process -- "You have to have your doors  and windows weatherproofed, insulate all the pipes, and do R-30s on the roofs, R-19 or the equivalent on the ceiling, and R-12 on the walls," says Sweeney (The specs he quoted above refer to the thickness of the fiberglass insulation required by law).

And yet, San Francisco apartments of three units or more -- which house the vast majority of this city's residents -- don't have any such laws mandating proper insulation. Even if a landlord sells an apartment building, he or she isn't required to upgrade it as a home-seller would be. Only when an apartment is remodeled and "you tear out the old plaster to rewire it" would the city step in and insist on the installation of fiberglass insulation, Sweeney says.

"The state historical code is clear," he continues. "If it was built legally at the time of construction, no retrofitting needs to be done as far as insulation."

So, it's entirely possible that the hefty majority of San Franciscans have insufficient insulation -- or none whatsoever. And when you consider that inefficient buildings are one of the world's leading causes of wasted energy, this is no small matter in a city that seems to appreciate "green" gestures more than actual environmentally friendly practices.

As far as complaining about San Francisco weather while indoors or out, we could do worse than taking the advice President Jimmy Carter gave 33 years ago: Wear a sweater.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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