Building codes aren’t exactly up there on the list of this year’s beach reading materials.
But if there is one that you should try and squeeze in between working on your tan and building sand castles, the recent update to California’s 2019 Building Energy Efficiency Standards is certainly up there on the list. If you don’t have the time or patience to sift through hundreds of pages of docket materials, well, that’s what we’re here for – to provide a Cliffs Notes of all the important points for you.
#1 Not All Buildings are Equal
To start with, don’t worry – this particular mandate only covers a small section of buildings. To be precise, only new-build single-family homes and multi-family homes under three stories in height. Industrial, commercial, and high-rise residential are not covered by the update. There are also climate-zone specificities built into the mandate. In multi-family buildings, common areas are not included in sizing out the determined kilowatt-hour energy usage of a dwelling that must we compensated for under the mandate.
#2 Cost versus Benefit
Any time a new mandate is proposed, the first thought goes to cost. Solar has been facing that obstacle for years – the length of time needed to recoup the cost of installation and upkeep is a barrier for most homeowners.
It’s still not cheap. The California Energy Commission (CEC) has estimated the cost of constructing a new home that meets the updated code will rise by about $9,500 on average. It is estimated that this will save, on average, $19,000 in energy and maintenance costs over 30 years. This is considering the home is a mixed-fuel home. Solar isn’t the only cost considered in the code however, as there are efficiency measures such as insulation that are also covered.
The good news is that, according to experts, these numbers should be conservative estimates when it comes to cost. They are specific to a single installation on a new home. If multiple new homes in the same neighborhood are being put up at the same time, or there are multiple units in a rental situation, the ability to combine costs such as labor and transportation, as well as reduce client acquisition cost, would lower the per-unit cost of installation, raising the cost versus benefit ratio.
#3 If It Walks Like a…
One of the biggest obstacles in moving towards solar energy is the “duck curve.” Named for its shape, this is the chart of energy usage throughout the day when compared with energy generation. During the day, the potential for energy generation is high – high enough to generate more than the demand. However, the surge to night usage, where more energy is needed and less is produced, demonstrates a steep ramping need over the course of three hours.
The good news is, the CEC used the update to include compliance credit for energy storage, to help reduce the impact of the curve. By installing batteries during the day, when there may be overgeneration of solar power, the individual sites can reduce the impact on the grid when the demand rises.
#4 Rental Market Impact
Up until now, there wasn’t much of an incentive for building owners to install solar. In rentals, electricity cost is almost always footed by the renter.
While this mandate won’t impact high-rise renters (those buildings are exempt, as noted above), renters in low-rise complexes or single-unit rentals will be moved to solar. This means that condo and property owners will need to consider this in new projects, either designing around it by going taller than planned, or figuring the solar systems into their plans. They will also need to reconsider how they work the costs – and savings – into the rental prices.
It’s a delicate balance, as many renters are unlikely to feel that they should bear the brunt of the cost of the solar system when older, non-solar units may have lower monthly costs. Owners and managers of large complexes will have to be creative in their accounting for the solar system needs, and may have to accept a longer period of recouping the costs.
#5 Maintenance Concerns
Installing a solar system is only the beginning – without proper upkeep and maintenance, these systems lose their functionality over time. This means proper customer education, which will have to come mainly from the homebuilders and sellers. Included in the building code is a point that the system must provide the homeowner with regular feedback on how the system is operating. While it does not define how it must be done, meaning it can be offered through a dashboard, an app, or other means, the fact remains that it must be incorporated into every build. Homebuilders will also have to figure out warranty work and responsibility for upkeep over time.
Not every new build is the same, so the code had to have flexibility built in. The main concern was providing builders the option to deploy community solar instead of explicitly requiring rooftop units. This means that instead of working a unit into each build design, a solar garden or solar farm could be created for the community as a whole with the individual homeowner drawing from that. A single, large community solar project allows homebuilders to benefit from reduced labor cost, although it does mean that under current regulations the eventual homeowner can’t benefit from net metering in a community solar arrangement. Of course, with rules constantly in flux, this could change down the line.
There are many other flexibility options written into the playbook aside from community solar. For instance, there are rules on what to do it a roof can’t sustain polar panels due to shading, design, or other extenuating circumstances. There’s the option of tradeoffs when it comes to energy budgeting. And there’s the storage credit as mentioned above. This mandate isn’t just to push California to solar energy – it wants to do it while inconveniencing as few people as possible.
#7 Deferment to Local Authorities
A small point in a large document, but an incredibly important one for homebuilders: Local authorities can make codes more stringent. If the local authority can go before the CEC and demonstrate that what they want to do with the code will help reduce energy consumption even further, and they can enforce it, the CEC will allow them to go ahead. For the homebuilder or investor, this means possibly needing to keep track of differing codes and requirements for every locality they want to build in. It’s great that it allows for local flexibility, but it means that a design or plan that works in one town may not be sufficient in the next, and will require redrawing and re-engineering plans.
These are just seven of the major points you need to know about the new solar roof mandate that the state of California is implementing. To hit all of these, you need a well-trained team, one with years of experience navigating the solar maze. Here at Highland Commercial Roofing, we have been designing, installing, and servicing solar power systems for years. Our experts do more than that – they also help you seek out significant incentives that are available, and can help you with rebate and grant paperwork. Contact our team today!