When you enter a new building, you likely have confidence that you will be safe and that the building will remain intact while you are in it. This confidence is largely due to the presence of building codes, which guide the construction process and ensure that a building isn’t poorly designed. The California building code is a set of regulations and standards that developers and project managers must adhere to while a structure is being built.
Even the initial building designs that are made for a structure must meet California building codes if you want your building permit to be approved by the LADBS. Building codes apply to all new construction, sizable repairs, demolitions, and remodels/renovations. It’s important to understand that building codes are mainly put in place to protect public health and safety in regards to the construction and occupancy of buildings.
As touched upon previously, it’s essential that construction companies understand this form of code if they want to be able to construct a building without running into any problems. Your initial building permit application will only be approved if you can provide the LADBS with building plans that meet the local building code.
However, the construction crew must understand how to properly implement these plans to make sure that they continue meeting local building codes. If a construction crew doesn’t fully comprehend the importance of the California building code, they could make mistakes when constructing the building. In this situation, the building would likely fail inspection, which means that the work would need to be demolished and redone.
California renews their building codes and regulations every three years. If you work in the construction industry, it’s important that you remain up-to-date on any changes that are made to the building code. Keep in mind that any changes to the building code don’t go into effect immediately. In the event that new standards are approved at some point in December 2021, they will only go into effect on January 1, 2023. This article provides a more in-depth look at the latest California building codes and what they mean to construction teams.
California Energy Commission
The California Energy Commission is the main energy planning and policy agency in California. They are responsible for adopting new standards for the energy efficiency of buildings every three years. Along with increasing energy efficiency, these standards could also reduce the carbon footprint that buildings have. Even though the California Energy Commission is tasked with adopting new energy-efficiency standards, these standards aren’t always put into place.
Once the California Energy Commission adopts new standards, these recommendations will be gathered by the California Building Standards Commission. In August of this year, the California Energy Commission developed new standards. These standards will either be approved or rejected in December 2021 by the California Building Standards Commission.
If officially adopted, the new standards will represent substantial changes to the California building code in regards to requirements for onsite battery storage and solar photovoltaic panels for most multifamily, non-residential, and commercial buildings. Similar requirements were adopted by the California Energy Commission in 2018 for residential homes, which means that the new standards are mainly expanding the ones that were set in 2018.
These changes are a big deal for the California building code because most buildings will now be required to go solar starting in 2023, which should keep energy costs down while also protecting the environment and reducing carbon emissions.
Buildings Affected by the CA Building Code
These new standards are set to apply to a wide range of different buildings throughout California. Keep in mind, however, that they only apply to newly constructed buildings. If a building is constructed in 2022, it doesn’t need to meet these building codes. Both private and public buildings are covered by the new building code. Some examples of buildings that will need to be outfitted with photovoltaic panels include:
- Hotels and restaurants
- Multifamily buildings
- Medical clinics and offices
- Auditoriums and theaters
- Grocery and retail stores
- Offices and financial institutions
- Schools and libraries
If these building codes are adopted in December, they will go into effect at the beginning of 2023. After this date, it’s important to understand that you won’t need to meet the new building code when performing alterations or improvements to existing buildings. Because of how much a building must change to be outfitted with solar photovoltaic panels and onsite battery storage, only new buildings will need to incorporate these changes.
Types of Measures that Will Be Required
The building standards that are set to be adopted can be separated into four distinct technical areas. The first area involves battery storage and photovoltaic systems. This requirement was put in place by the California Energy Commission to push the state towards its eventual goal of using 100% renewable energy. When implemented properly, it’s possible for photovoltaic panels to provide enough solar energy to avoid electricity usage when the electrical grid is sourced from gas-powered plants.
Another measure involves efficiency measures for an entire building. These measures aim to require buildings to add electric heat-pump technology for water and space heating, which should effectively reduce the emissions created from gas-powered units. New ventilation standards will also help to improve a building’s indoor air quality. Some of the other changes that these measures take into account include:
- Motion and occupancy standards
- Indoor lighting controls
- New sealing and duct-work
- Max wattage for specific internal areas
- Special rules for process boilers, fans, and computer rooms
- Special rules for any refrigerated area in a building
The third area of focus involves new measures for indoor growing, commercial greenhouses, cannabis production, and controlled horticulture. The fourth area of focus involves the establishment of electric-ready requirements for most single-family homes, which will push homeowners to use electric vehicle charging, electric heating, and electric cooking. Such measures have been put into place to make sure that gas-powered appliances are eventually replaced with electrical-based appliances.
Exceptions to this New Code
While most buildings must adhere to the new California building codes, there are some exceptions to these new codes. For instance, smaller commercial buildings that contain less than 5,000 square feet in space won’t be required to meet the new code. The same is true of:
- Some buildings that don’t contain a community-based solar program or virtual net metering
- Buildings that are positioned in specific California climate zones
- Buildings that consist of small roofs
- Buildings that are located in areas with heavy snow loads
When you submit your building plans to the LADBS, they will be able to tell you if the building you intend to construct would fall under one of the exceptions. However, it’s highly recommended that you hire a contractor or building permit expediter beforehand who understands the new building codes.
If your building plans fall just outside of the exception list, you may be required to redraw your building plans after having submitted them to the LADBS, which would only serve to delay the entire construction process. Hiring a building permit expediter beforehand allows you to make the necessary changes before the application has been submitted.
The new California building codes should be studied by anyone who’s involved in the construction industry. As long as these changes are approved by the California Building Standards Commission, it’s very likely that any structure you attempt to build in 2023 and beyond will require solar photovoltaic panels and will need to meet additional building codes.
While new residential homes have had to be built with solar panels since the beginning of 2019, this requirement now applies to many multifamily properties and commercial buildings. However, it’s possible that the building you intend to build would qualify for an exemption, which is something you should determine before sending in your building permit application.
There are many reasons why the California Energy Commission is pushing for solar panels to be required on most buildings constructed in the state. For one, the commission believes that these specific measures will lessen how reliant the state is on electricity. More than 65% of the state’s electricity use comes from buildings. Residential and commercial buildings are also responsible for more than 25% of California’s greenhouse gas emissions. Requiring new buildings to be outfitted with solar panels should reduce the amount of energy California uses while also lowering the state’s carbon footprint.
It’s important to note that these building codes will become standard across the state at the beginning of 2023, which is when building departments will start applying the building code to any permit applications they receive. However, many counties and cities go beyond the minimum building standards that are set by California. The California Green Building Standards provide voluntary reach standards, which are designed to offer building code language that local governments can use when they want to exceed the statewide requirements. When you want to find out more about the new California building codes, some useful resources are listed below.
Jason Somers, President & Founder of Crest Real Estate
With over 15 years of professional experience in the Los Angeles luxury real estate market, Jason Somers has the background, judgement and track record to provide an unparalleled level of real estate services. His widespread knowledge helps clients identify and acquire income producing properties and value-ad development opportunities.