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California sets stronger energy efficiency rules for buildings

Posted by Michael Stevens
Michael Stevens
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on Wednesday, 06 June 2012
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The California Energy Commission votes to tighten regulations that govern lighting controls, hot-water pipes, windows, insulation and other systems in new buildings and building additions.

California set stronger efficiency rules

A worker builds a home in San Diego. California's tighter energy efficiency rules for new and newly remodeled buildings take effect in 2014. (Sam Hodgson, Bloomberg / April 19, 2012)

By Marc Lifsher, Los Angeles Times

June 1, 2012

SACRAMENTO — Construction costs may go up, but new and remodeled homes and buildings will consume much less conventional power starting in a year and a half when the state's newest energy efficiency standards take effect.

The California Energy Commission voted 4 to 0 on Thursday to tighten regulations that govern lighting controls, hot-water pipes, windows, insulation and other systems in new buildings and building additions.

The rules, which kick in Jan. 1, 2014, would reduce wasted energy in heating, cooling and lighting 25% over current standards for new homes and about 30% for commercial structures, state experts estimated.

Over the next 30 years, the new standards would save energy equal to the output of six modern natural-gas-fired power plants, saving enough electricity to run 1.7 million homes or 40 million iPads, commission staff reported.

The new rules are the latest in the triennial revisions under the 34-year-old law that has made California structures and appliances the nation's most efficient.

Energy efficiency — using less electricity and natural gas to run buildings without sacrificing productivity or comfort — is the priority in California's official plan to save money, fight pollution and global warming and avoid construction of expensive power plants and transmission lines.

"The update for building standards is the biggest incremental improvement in efficiency that we've ever made in California," Energy Commissioner Karen Douglas said.

The new regulations require that home builders put insulation on hot-water pipes, make rooftops more ready for eventual solar power systems and hire independent inspectors to verify correct air conditioner installation. They also recommend the use of, and set efficiency levels for, whole house fans, upgraded windows and improved wall insulation.

Proposed changes for commercial buildings include solar-ready roofs, automatic controls that adjust lighting levels to sunlight, better refrigeration equipment, reflective roofing and heat-filtering windows.

Tighter energy efficiency rules would affect all new construction and additions and major retrofits to existing structures. The upgrades by law must be cost-efficient, and the Energy Commission estimated that the new standards would add $2,290 to the cost of a 2,200-square-foot home but would yield $6,200 in energy-related savings over 30 years.

Since 1978, tightened efficiency for buildings, air conditioners, furnaces, refrigerators, televisions and other products has saved Californians $66 billion on their electricity and natural gas bills, the commission said. Pollution has been reduced by the equivalent of taking 37 million cars off the road.

The new energy efficiency standards enjoyed broad support from investor-owned utilities such as Southern California Edison Co., environmental groups, local government building inspection officials and high-tech businesses developing environmentally friendly building products.

They also won grudging approval from two significant stakeholders: the California Building Industry Assn., which represents 90% of home builders, and the California Business Properties Assn., which lobbies for commercial building owners.

"Given the [weak] economy, we would have preferred that the California Energy Commission not make any changes this time around, but they've got some ambitious goals to meet by 2020," said Robert Raymer, senior engineer for the builders group. "We recognize that doing nothing was not in the cards."

The new regulations are not "unobtainable or economically infeasible," said Matthew Hargrove, senior vice president for the business properties group.

But the Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Assn. and the American Heating and Refrigeration Institute opposed the revisions.

The roofing manufacturers argued that the changes — particularly the installation of reflective roofs on commercial buildings — were based on insufficient financial data and would unnecessarily raise construction costs.

"The CEC has repeatedly failed to adequately quantify the real-world cost savings to the building owner for applying a cool roof," said Reed Hitchcock, executive vice president of the roofing group.

Bob Wiseman, president of the Institute of Heating and Air Conditioning Industries, said his organization supported the spirit of the new efficiency rules. But he said he feared that increased costs would lead contractors not to get building permits in order to avoid inspections.

Douglas countered that the energy efficiency measures involve "off the shelf" technology that "is capable of being deployed at scale in the market."

©The California Energy Commission
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