Rooftop Coverage Regulations - What & Why

Rooftop Coverage Regulations

What's Happening Now

On June 14, 2022, the City Council approved SDCI proposal for Land Use Code changes about how much mechanical equipment and other features can be placed on building rooftops. This proposal will apply to new buildings that must meet the 2018 Energy Code requirements. SDCI published a SEPA determination for this proposal on December 30, 2021. 

The bill was adopted as Ordinance 126600, after being passed by the City Council’s Land Use Committee. You can read more in the records of the bill at this link: Council Bill 120287. The first meeting of the Land Use Committee on this topic was held on April 27, 2022. Watch a recording of this meeting. The second meeting of this committee was held on June 8, 2022.  Watch a recording of this meeting:  Land Use Committee Public Hearing 6/8/22 | seattlechannel.org.

The City Council adopted two kinds of amendments to the bill: 1) minor text corrections; and 2) amendments allowing taller elevator penthouses and greater coverage on rooftops for buildings taller than 125 feet in International District Residential (IDR) zones. This extended roof coverage capabilities to be the same as other comparable Downtown residential zones. The latter topic also had been discussed during a meeting of the International District Special Review Board.

In order to reduce air pollution, the Energy Code requires new buildings to heat and cool indoor spaces differently. This means more equipment like heat pumps may be placed on rooftops. Highlights of the code change include:

  • Increase the amount of roof that may be covered with features between 4 and 15 feet in height.
  • The typical increase in the roof coverage is an additional 10%.   
  • In most zones, the maximum roof coverage limit will be 35%.
  • For taller residential buildings in Downtown with slim tower forms, increase the rooftop coverage by 20% to reach 75%. For other new Downtown buildings, allow rooftop coverage to reach 50%.
  • Outside of Downtown, on buildings taller than 120 feet, allow rooftop coverage to reach 75%. For this option, mechanical equipment must be screened or kept no taller than 5 feet.
  • Allow a 10% increase in rooftop coverage when a greenhouse is present, in most zones.
  • Allow building remodels in Pioneer Square to add one-floor rooftop penthouses with lodging and eating and drinking establishments on buildings taller than 35 feet.
  • Allow buildings built since 2008 in Pioneer Square to be retrofitted with enclosed recreational spaces.

For full details of the proposed code update, see the Rooftop Coverage Regulations Proposal Summary Table.

Project Benefits

The legislation has the following benefits:

  • Coordinate development regulations with the new Energy Code requirements. This will help us reduce our carbon emissions for global environmental health.
  • Allow enough space on roofs for wind and solar power features, and other mechanical equipment that reduce pollution and are more energy-efficient.
  • Continue to allow enough space for rooftop features with amenity value for residents, like indoor and outdoor recreation spaces.
  • Require screening and enclosing of mechanical equipment to maintain the aesthetic quality of new buildings.
  • Allow rooftop uses in Pioneer Square to include spaces for lodging and eating and drinking, to help attract visitors and economic activity to the neighborhood.

The End Result

As a result of the legislation, buildings in Seattle will be designed to save energy and reduce carbon pollution. The easier-to-use codes will help provide new buildings with enough space for required equipment and amenities for residents.