Want to learn more about the California energy code?

If you haven’t already heard the groundbreaking news, the California Energy Commission changed its energy code in May 2019. The change affects every new house built since then. And it’s a shocker.

New residential buildings must include a photovoltaic system with an electrical output that’s equal to the dwelling’s annual electrical usage. Yep, that means solar cells and lots of them.

But how do you find out how much electricity your new house will use? And what about other buildings, like granny flats or commercial buildings? Do they also need solar cells?

Don’t worry, we’ll break down the answers to these questions and more in the sections below. When you’re ready to learn how the solar panel revolution will affect your building project, read on.

The California Energy Code

What is this bizarre code we’re speaking of, anyway? Well, let’s start from the beginning.

California set up its own Code of Regulations, separate from laws that govern national regulations. The efforts to codify these regulations began way back in 1941 and developed into the Code of Regulations in 1988.

Well, the California Energy Code is a small section of the Code of Regulations. Long story short, they regulate energy efficiency standards statewide. Your local government agencies may choose to adopt and enforce these regulations.

In essence, Energy Codes create energy efficiency standards. The codes apply to additions, alterations, repairs, and new buildings (including Accessory Dwelling Units or ADUs).

They help regulate how much energy buildings are allowed to consume. It means new building owners must be aware of energy consumption. That includes where it’s coming from, where it’s going, and whether they need to conserve or budget their energy.

How the Energy Code Effects All Building Owners

Affordable housing is one of California’s most pressing issues. Unfortunately, that’s about to get worse. The necessity of adding solar panels to new houses will add thousands of dollars to the cost of homes.

Now, state officials and clean-energy advocates proclaim the extra costs will be made up over time through lower energy bills. Remember, those homeowners with solar panels will receive free energy. After the initial cost of installing the photovoltaic cells, that is.

That made the approval of the code a relative easy for the five-member California Energy Commission. They unanimously voted on the new codes. It’s a step toward their goal of creating a 100% clean energy state in the not-so-distant future.

Several California cities already made commitments to the 100% clean energy movement. Other states, including New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Washington D.C., are jumping on the clean energy movement. But California’s initiative remains the boldest by far.

The Energy Commission estimates the addition of solar panels will tack on an extra $40 to homeowners’ average monthly payments. They claim that it’ll save homeowners an average of $80 each month on heating, lighting, and cooling bills. Those are savings for homeowners of $40 overall.

How the Codes Affect You

Ok, now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. If you’re building a high rise, these codes won’t affect you. The codes only affect new buildings under three stories tall.

That means if you’re just following one of the newest bathroom renovation trends, the codes won’t affect you. If you’re building a new porch, they won’t affect you. If you’re adding a pool, they won’t affect you.

If you’re adding a granny flat, on the other hand, you need to know both the California Energy Codes and the California Granny Flat Laws. The codes will affect your new flat if it’s separate from your established residence. The California solar mandate won’t affect your flat if it’s attached to your established residence.

If you’re building a commercial building, you don’t have to worry about the California solar panel mandate. At least not yet. Be sure to check with your contractor for the latest news on solar panel construction.

The rule of thumb is that if it’s a new residential building under three stories tall, you must provide a portion of your energy. How much? That all depends on which of the California cities or zones you live.

The goal is to get California to zero net energy by 2020. What we mean is that your building must produce enough of its own energy on-site to offset its projected annual energy use. Fortunately, you don’t need to be zero net energy yet.

California isn’t on track to hit that goal. Instead, what the commission is asking from you is to offset your electricity usage by adding a modestly sized solar array to your new dwelling. Exactly how much is determined by your city and your zone.

For instance, Palo Alto, Lancaster, and Santa Monica require more than the state’s current requirements.

Where do the Solar Panels Go?

Now, what about the solar panels? Well, you have some options here. The first is you can install them on your roof.

Roof installs will be the most common because it’s the area on your property that provides the greatest access to sunlight. If you own a piece of property that has an abundance of land, you have another option. You can install your photovoltaic cells elsewhere on your property, so long as the area is devoid of obstructions.

You can also choose to hire an alternative solar energy provider.

In this case, you essentially rent out your roof to a solar company. Completely free of charge, they come and install solar panels on your roof. You then pay them for your monthly power bill, just as you pay your current energy provider.

If you live in a new housing complex, you may also choose to join your resources. As a group, you and the other homeowners in your area may create a single solar tower to provide power to all the houses in the area.

What’s Next?

Now that you understand the California energy code, you know you’re responsible for including photovoltaic cells in your new building plans. If you shoot for the goal of zero net energy, you’ll be ahead of the game. Then you won’t have to add additional cells during the energy codes’ expected changes over the next decade.

Also, if you're building a granny flat and need advice, we have experts available to answer questions, Monday through Friday 7:30 am to 4:00 pm, and we’re happy to talk through some strategies for solar implementation.