CA Building Code Requires Rooftop Solar for New Apartment Buildings

California rooftop solar building code change
(Photo Credit: IRFTS Easy Roof, Flickr Creative Commons)

The California Energy Commission voted unanimously this week to update the state’s building code to require rooftop solar panels on all new apartment building and condo construction starting January 1, 2020. This change would make California the only state with such a rule, SCPR reported.

“Every three years, the Energy Commission recommends updates to the state’s energy efficiency building codes,” SCPR’s Emily Guerin reported. The move is part of a larger goal in the state to reduce emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.

New condos and apartments up to three stories high being built will be required to have solar PV systems, the San Diego Union-Tribune’s Rob Nikolewski noted. Shaded and taller buildings that can’t accommodate rooftop systems will be eligible for exceptions or alternatives.

Although the commission projects that the long-term benefits solar panels will outweigh the upfront costs, the investment won’t be insignificant. Nikolewski reported that contractors in San Diego area estimate the code change will add about $20,000 to construction costs, depending on the size of the home.

Bob Raymer, technical director for the California Building Industry Association, told the San Bernardino Sun that the revisions would add an estimated $8,400 to $12,400 to the current cost.

“Raymer said homebuilders may be able to pass on the added costs to consumers in cooler parts of the state, where less solar will be needed,” the Sun’s Jeff Collins wrote. “But builders in hotter areas like Sacramento or Fresno may have to absorb some of the costs, he said.”

An energy commission senior engineer told the commission that the new building code will cut carbon dioxide emissions by almost 30% per home, Collins reported. KB Home’s vice president of sustainability initiatives Jacob Atalla told the Sun that the building code change was no surprise for the LA-based homebuilding company. “The California Energy Commission and the government have signaled this in past years by ramping up the code, and we have been preparing for it.”

The change also comes at a time when solar installers are dealing with Trump’s tariffs on solar panels made abroad and estimating that the new tariff’s on imported steel and aluminum could raise the price of racking systems for the home market by $100 to $200, according to Nikolewski.

“Anything that’s going to expand the market and increase awareness is great,” Barry Cinnamon, CEO of San Jose-based Spice Solar, which specializes in residential installations, told the paper.

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