CA’s Updated Building Energy Coming in 2020

Every three years the California Energy Commission updates the state’s building code to make improvements to the energy performance of new buildings. Starting January 1, 2020, California’s 2019 Building Energy Efficiency Standards will take effect. Any building permitted after the new year will need to comply with these new standards.

California’s 2019 residential standards focus on three key areas: updated thermal envelope (a tight and well-insulated building shell), ventilation to ensure high indoor air quality, and smart residential photovoltaic systems. Together these measures ensure that new buildings require less energy compared to older buildings.

The most visual change to new homes will be that new single-family and low-rise multifamily buildings (three stories or less) will require installation of a solar photovoltaic (PV) system. Exceptions are provided for specific projects where adding solar would not be cost-effective, such as on shaded sites or where the electric utility’s rates are uncommonly low.

To minimize energy consumption and thus reduce the need for generation – whether from rooftop PV or from the grid – the 2019 Standards include several envelope efficiency measures, such as improved high performance attics and walls, better windows, and insulation quality checks as prescriptive measures. Heat pump water heater options for new buildings, additions, and alterations were also added for 2019.

The standards encourage that grid-friendly technologies such as battery storage, thermal storage, and demand response be installed alongside solar. The standards are are also intended to incentivize the construction of all-electric homes. The State anticipates that, over time, these approaches will help California to integrate renewable resources of all types and in varying amounts into the electric grid and will optimize the use of current transmission and distribution systems at a time when increasing adoption of electric vehicles will be adding significant new demand to the grid.

The currently building stock is estimated to produce more than 30 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions. The new building standards and the State’s electrification initiative are anticipated to reduce those emissions significantly. The Energy Commission’s website indicates that the 2019 Standards will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an amount equivalent to removing 115,000 cars from California’s roads and that, all things being equal, a residence built under the 2019 Standards will purchase from the utility less than half the energy compared to a similar home built to 2016 Standards.

For Further Reading:
• The California Energy Commission official website:
• Article, “What to Know About California’s Solar Mandate”:
• Article, “New California Energy Building Code Updates”:

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