Code Adoption Cycles: What We Can Learn From the Past and What to Prepare for in 2020

The codes which govern construction in California can be a challenge to navigate, whether you’re a homeowner or an experienced builder. Keeping up with their adoption cycles, and the extra construction costs each new edition brings surely adds to the frustration.

The codes currently in use in California date back to 2016, and came into effect on January 1st, 2017. At the time, changes to the California Energy Efficiency Standards, better known as Title 24, had a major impact on construction costs.

California was already pushing for net-zero energy new homes by 2020, and the State’s 2016 code updates affected several important changes to the Energy Efficiency Standards. Net-zero energy homes produce as much energy as they consume, and the purpose of the 2016 updates was to reduce the energy consumption to a level that on-site renewable energy generation systems could meet.

To achieve this, the 2016 updates included additional insulation in attics, better-insulated walls meant to reduce heating costs in the winter and cooling costs in the summer, more stringent air leakage requirements for fenestration products, and high-efficiency luminaires with controls that would nearly halve electricity consumption, among others. The 2016 Standards also encouraged the use of instantaneous, or tankless water heaters as an added efficiency measure. Despite the California Energy Commission’s (CEC) efforts to reduce the effect of code updates on construction costs, the industry felt their impact statewide.

Aside from Title 24 changes, the State also introduced more stringent seismic and wind requirements. To keep up with an increasing pace of wildfires, the Wildland-Urban Interface Code called for tempered windows, fire-resistant exterior siding, fire-resistive roofing, limited foundation, eaves and soffit vents, and placed constraints on deck materials in the affected areas of the state. All these changes, necessary given California’s susceptibility to natural disasters, again made new construction more expensive.

2019 Code Editions – What To Expect

New editions of all the State’s codes which govern construction are adopted every 3 years. As we approach the date when the 2019 codes will go into effect – January 1st, 2020 – it’s vital to know and understand the impending changes. This knowledge will eliminate surprises on projects that get underway in 2020, and help builders comply with the new ordinances.

So, what changes are coming up in 2020?

As with the 2016 codes, some of the most significant changes due in January 2020 are related to energy efficiency. Below is a summary of the key updates.

1. Mandatory Photovoltaic Systems
While the 2016 updates to energy efficiency standards focused on reducing a home’s energy consumption, the 2019 updates mandate a renewable energy generation system sized to meet the home’s energy needs. With this in mind, all new ground up residential construction with 3 stories or less from the ground will need to incorporate a photovoltaic (PV) system. The home’s estimated electrical usage will determine the size of the system.

Some exemptions from this new requirement will be given to buildings with insufficient roof space, or roofs which are permanently blocked from sunlight.

A community solar generation alternative will be available to builders of subdivisions. With this option, builders can provide off-site solar generation facilities that totally or partially meet the on-site PV requirements, instead of installing them on each individual roof.

2. New Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Standards

With the 2019 Title 24 updates, some home HVAC systems will be tested to new standards. Some examples include:
  • kitchen range hoods must provide an output of 100 Cubic Feet per Minute and operate at 3.0 Sones
  • HVAC systems may see an increase in duct size and return air sizing, while the size of equipment may decrease
  • HVAC filter ratings will increase to Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) 13
So, what impact will these changes have?

Kitchen range hood systems will have to handle a higher capacity, while operating quieter. Home air filters will get expensive, although the added protection against dust, dirt and allergens is bound to have a positive effect on families’ well-being.

3. R-Value Increases

To further decrease home energy consumption, the CEC is increasing the prescriptive insulation R-values in walls and attics in some  Climate Zones. The changes are as follows:
  • R-value for insulation below the roof deck in attics will increase from R-13 to R-19 in Climate Zones 4, 8-16
  • R-value requirements for fill insulation in exterior walls will increase from R19 to R21, while requirements for continuous insulation will remain at R-5, in Climate Zones 1-5 and 8-16.
Another significant update to the 2019 Energy Efficiency Standards changes Quality Insulation Installation (QII) from a compliance credit to a prescriptive requirement. This new requirement will be effective in all Climate Zones, except for low-rise multifamily dwellings in Climate Zone 7.

4. Fenestration

Windows are typically seen as the weak point of a home’s defense against heat gain and loss. They allow for significant solar heat gain during the hot summer months and conversely let the heat escape during the winter. To decrease a home’s usage of its heating and cooling systems, a home’s windows must limit the rate of heat loss (U-factor), and increase resistance to heat caused by sunlight (Solar Heat Gain Coefficient, SHGC).

To this end, the 2019 Energy Efficiency Standards are adopting a more stringent prescriptive U-factor for windows, changing it from 0.32 to 0.30. The update is also limiting the SHGC from 0.25 to 0.23 in Climate Zones 2 and 5-15.

2019 California Building Standards Code Changes

Aside from the many updates to energy efficiency standards, the 2019 California Building Code also contains some notable changes. The new edition of the Building Code will include a clarification regarding Tsunami Risk Categories (TRC), and how they are determined. The TRC will dictate the design guidelines for buildings at risk of tsunami exposure. The new Building Code will also provide additional information regarding wind and seismic design requirements for rooftop photovoltaic panels.

How We Can Help

While this article touches on the more significant impending changes, there are plenty others that may affect your project. If you are planning to start a construction project once the 2019 codes come into effect in January 2020, it’s in your best interest to consult a professional. Regardless of what your project is, our team of experts at Design Everest will be happy to assist you with it, and to make sure that you’re fully compliant with all soon-to-be adopted codes. Call us at (877) 704-6765 or Contact Us for a FREE consultation and quote.

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