California building energy efficiency rules

Friday, June 1, 2012

California regulators have issued strong new building energy efficiency standards.  Yesterday the California Energy Commission issued its so-called 2013 Building Energy Efficiency Standards, which require new buildings to meet significantly higher energy efficiency targets than under the previous rules issued in 2008.

According to the Commission, the 2013 Building Energy Efficiency Standards are 25 percent more efficient than the 2008 standards for residential construction and 30 percent better for nonresidential construction.  These standards apply to all new buildings other than hospitals, nursing homes, correctional centers, jails, and prisons.

New requirements for residential construction include insulating hot water pipes, tighter window performance standards, whole house fans to reduce evening air condition demand, and "solar ready roof" requirements to facilitate the installation of solar photovoltaic or solar thermal panels at a future date.  Commercial and other nonresidential standards are similar, including high-performance windows, efficient process equipment for grocery stores, advanced lighting controls, and cool roof technologies.

Designing and constructing buildings to these standards will increase the capital cost of development, but the Commission projects that the energy savings will outweigh these costs.  According to the Commission, the standards will increase the average cost of constructing a new home by $2,290 but will return more than $6,200 in energy savings over 30 years.

California's 2013 standards were supported by a broad coalition of interests, including construction trade associations, environmental activist groups, and gas and electric utilities.  While state-mandated building energy codes face opposition in some parts of the country, California is no stranger to mandatory building energy efficiency standards.  California first issued standards in 1977, following the 1976 enactment of the Warren-Alquist Act.  The California Energy Commission notes that since 1978, it has saved Californians $66 billion in electricity and natural gas costs through energy efficient building and appliance standards.

The new standards take effect on January 1, 2014.

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