2022 Cooling Ordinance

In June 2022, the Chicago City Council adopted an ordinance requiring certain new and existing residential buildings to install air conditioning equipment in indoor common gathering areas and to make these areas available to building residents as cooling centers when the outdoor heat index exceeds 80°F. The ordinance allows temporary (portable) air conditioning equipment to be used to meet this requirement until April 30, 2024. Permanent equipment must be installed by May 1, 2024.

To report non-compliance with this ordinance or for information about public cooling centers, use 3‑1‑1.

To report an immediate danger to yourself or others, always call 9‑1‑1.

Which buildings are subject to the new requirements?

The new requirement applies to all new and existing residential buildings, including the residential portions of mixed-use buildings, within the City of Chicago that:

  • Are over 80 feet in height (high-rise buildings) or
  • Have more than 100 residential units or
  • Are operated as “housing for older persons” under the Federal Fair Housing Act (usually, housing primarily intended for those 55 years of age or older)

Existing requirements for air conditioning continue to apply to facilities that are licensed or required to be licensed as nursing homes, assisted living establishments, long-term care facilities, adult family care centers, or adult family care homes. The Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) can provide more information about these requirements for licensed facilities.

Where is air conditioning required?

For buildings subject to the new requirement that are not classified as “housing for older persons,” the ordinance requires air conditioning in at least one “indoor common gathering space.” This space must be accessible to each resident of the building free of charge.

For buildings subject to the new requirement that are classified as “housing for older persons,” the ordinance requires air conditioning in all “indoor common gathering spaces.”

The ordinance does not define “indoor common gathering space,” so the requirement applies to rooms and spaces that an ordinary person would describe with this term. Common examples include meeting rooms, party rooms, and exercise/fitness centers. Depending on how the space is used, a lobby with seating or a shared laundry room with seating could be considered as a common gathering space. Hallways will not be considered common gathering spaces.

The ordinance does not include requirements for the minimum size (floor area) of indoor common gathering spaces.

What type of air conditioning equipment is required?

The ordinance requires equipment capable of providing both cooling and dehumidification, commonly referred to as “air conditioning” equipment. Fans and evaporative cooling systems alone do not meet this requirement.

Air conditioning equipment used to meet this requirement must be either independent of heating equipment or capable of being switched from heating to cooling mode within one hour. If a space that requires cooling under this ordinance currently relies on equipment that does not meet this new requirement, supplemental cooling equipment may be required for that space.

Until April 30, 2024, temporary or portable air conditioning equipment may be used to meet this requirement. By May 1, 2024, permanent equipment that complies with this ordinance must be installed.

There are a variety of economical and energy-efficient air conditioning systems for retrofit applications that are considered permanent, including “split ductless” systems and hard wired through-the-wall or window units. 120-volt plug-in air conditioning equipment is not considered permanent.

Air conditioning equipment used to comply with this ordinance must have the technical capacity to maintain an indoor temperature of 75ºF and 50 percent relative humidity at a point 3 feet above the floor when the outdoor temperature is 92ºF and the mean coincident wet bulb temperature is 75ºF. Whether equipment can meet this specification is based on several factors including: the volume of the space to be cooled; the number and type of windows; and the insulating value of the walls, floor, and roof. An architect, engineer, or experienced contractor can perform calculations to determine the best type and size of equipment for your space.

Is a permit required to install new permanent air conditioning equipment?

Yes, installation of new permanent air conditioning equipment requires a permit issued by the Department of Buildings.

Any person or business offering to contract with a building owner to perform work that requires a building permit must be licensed by the City of Chicago. The City of Chicago does not have a specialty license for HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) work, so the contractor will most likely have a general contractor license. Installation of new air conditioning equipment for a single space is eligible to use the Express Permit Program. This type of permit is usually issued within 1-2 business days. The contractor should provide you with a copy of the permit for your records.

Electrical work must be performed by a City of Chicago-licensed electrical contractor. The electrical contractor may be hired directly by the building owner or be a subcontractor hired by the general contractor. If no other permit is obtained, the electrical contractor must obtain an electrical permit before performing work and should provide you with a copy for your records. 

When must the required air conditioning be operated?

The indoor common gathering space(s) required to have air conditioning must be open to residents of the building and the equipment must be operated to maintain “safe” indoor conditions when the heat index for the City of Chicago exceeds 80ºF. Whether indoor conditions are safe depends upon factors other than air temperature, including sun exposure, air speed, the activity level and age of occupants, and relative humidity. Safe conditions may be maintained with both the air conditioning system and other equipment, such as window shades and fans.

The requirement to make an indoor common gathering area available as a cooling center for residents does not apply if equivalent cooling and dehumidification equipment is present and operable in every residential unit in the building.

Where can I learn more about how to keep a building cool?

The United States Department of Energy (DOE) provides information about home cooling strategies at https://www.energy.gov/home-cooling.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides information about how to operate heating and cooling equipment efficiently at https://www.energystar.gov/saveathome/heating_cooling