All You Need to Know About Changes to Title 24 Coming in 2022

Every three years, the California state government updates its Building Standards Code. This year, changes to Title 24 focus on improving energy efficiency, reducing energy consumption, and limiting emissions. From encouraging electric heat pumps to requiring battery storage for solar energy in new constructions, the CEC and CBSC have proposed several code updates to make the Golden State increasingly independent, more energy-efficient, less wasteful, and much healthier for Californians. Follow below to learn all about the Building Standards Code, upcoming changes to Title 24, and how these changes might affect your plans for a new custom home in California.

A Brief History of the California Building Code

According to the California Building Standards Commission, state legislation enacted in 1978 created a singular building code under which all building standards were unified. This code was called “Title 24” or “the California Building Standards Code,” which remains today. Having all standards gathered under the umbrella of a single code made it much easier for builders, architects, and designers to create commercial and residential buildings that adhered to each rule.

Before 1978, the CBSC notes that “building standards were interspersed throughout several titles of the California Code of Regulations…causing confusion and difficulties” for nearly everyone in the industry. Ten years after the California Building Standards Code was created, our state government “mandated that Title 24 apply to all occupancies” in California. Before this legislation was enacted, “local jurisdictions may have enforced a different code version.” Building projects across all towns, cities, and municipalities in the Golden State are subject to Title 24.

What Exactly is Title 24?

In his article “About the Title 24 California Building Code” for SF Gate, Tom Streissguth explains how the California Building Standards Code works and what it entails. First, Streissguth writes that “Title 24 includes all regulations for how buildings are designed and constructed.” All standards outlined in the California Building Standards Code are “intended to ensure the maximum structural integrity and safety of private and public buildings.” As such, the Code applies to California businesses and other nonresidential buildings as well as private homes. Even certain types of remodels and renovations are required to meet standards laid out in the latest version of Title 24. Today, the Code also ensures buildings are efficient and eco-friendly.

Streissguth notes that “Title 24 standards apply to the structure of buildings as well as their mechanical systems such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning.” This means everything from plumbing and HVAC systems to interior lighting controls and a new construction's building envelope are regulated by the California Building Standards Code. Most recently – due to concerns about climate change and emissions – the Code has evolved to include standards regarding greenhouse gas emissions and energy conservation. Title 24 also dictates how historic buildings in California are cared for – e.g. if, how and when these buildings are retrofitted.

The Witkin State Law Library resource “California Building Standards Code: Basic Online Research" notes that there are twelve chapters of Title 24. These include the California Administrative Code, Building Code, Residential Code, Electrical Code, Mechanical Code, Plumbing Code and Energy Code. Also included in Title 24 are the California Historical Building Code – mentioned above –, Fire Code, Existing Building Code, Green Building Standards Code and Referenced Standards Code. Most Title 24 changes outlined in this article are part of the 2022 Building Energy Efficiency Standards (Energy Code) and are amendments to Title 24 Part 6 and Part 11.

How Often Does the Building Code Change?

A new edition of Title 24 is published every three years following deliberation of the California Building Standards Commission and a brief period of public comment. The Building Standards Commission always makes the last three editions of the Code available online to the public. Right now, anyone can view the 2013, 2016 and 2019 editions through the CBSC's website.

Upcoming changes to Title 24 will be weighed in December 2021 by the Building Standards Commission. There will also be a period of public comment in early 2022, during which California residents can lodge complaints, queries and other comments with the CBSC. Once the Commission has issued a decision and the public commentary period has ended, revisions will be included in the new building code. All changes made to the building code in 2022 will officially go into effect on 1 January 2023.

Understanding Upcoming Changes to Title 24

Every three years, the California Energy Commission updates Part 6 of Title 24 to reflect emerging technologies in the industry that reduce emissions for new residential and nonresidential buildings. The CEC is required to do so by the Warren-Alquist Act, which was established by the Commission in 1974. All new changes proposed and adopted by the CEC must then be approved by the CBSC. One of the best resources for truly understanding upcoming changes to Title 24 is the 2022 Building Energy Efficiency Standards Summary from the State of California Energy Commission. Assembled by Commissioners Karen Douglas, J.D., Siva Gunda, J. Andrew McAllister, Ph.D. and Patricia Monahan, this resource is both comprehensive and easy to digest.

Not only does the summary outline each of the four changes to California’s Energy Code coming in 2022, but it also explains why these changes are necessary. According to the 2022 Building Energy Efficiency Standards Summary, businesses and homes are responsible for almost 70% of the state’s electricity use and 25% of “California’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.” Though the CEC aims to reduce emissions across the state, we still have a long way to go. This CEC resource notes that “at least 50% of single-family homes and nearly 60% of California’s apartment complexes…were built before the state’s first energy standards.” Proposed standards from the 2022 Energy Code update can only alter standards for new buildings, even though many challenges are rooted in existing buildings. Updates for 2022 will hopefully make an impact despite these challenges.

Projected Benefits of the 2022 Energy Code

According to the CEC resource, benefits of the 2022 Energy Code updates include “increases in on-site renewable energy…[and] electric load flexibility” as well as reductions in emissions and air pollution from new construction buildings. A press release from California Energy Commission dating to August 2021 expounds on these benefits. The press release notes that “the 2022 Energy Code is estimated to provide $1.5 billion in consumer benefits and reduce 10 million metric tons of GHGs” over the next thirty years. The latter is reportedly “equivalent to taking nearly 2.2 million cars off the road for a year.”

What Did the CEC Propose in 2021?

This year, the CEC has proposed a series of updates to the Code. These updates aim to encourage wider adoption of electric heat pump technology and make new homes and businesses equipped with natural gas appliances “electric-ready.” The updates also aim to strengthen solar energy and storage standards as well as improve ventilation standards to boost indoor air quality. When the CBSC approves the CEC’s proposal, heat pumps will become the standard in new construction single-family homes, multi-family residences and commercial businesses.

All new homes will be “electric-ready,” meaning that each house built in California after 2022 will either have electrical circuits for all appliances or “dedicated circuits and panels to easily convert from natural gas to electric in the future.” Lastly, the new code will extend solar and battery storage standards from the 2019 code to a wider variety of residential and nonresidential buildings. Find more on each of these changes below.

Appliances in Some New Homes and Commercial Buildings Must Be “Electric Ready”

In the article “California releases proposed 2022 building code update” for Renewable Energy Magazine, Robin Whitlock explains the first two changes listed above. Whitlock writes that “starting in 2022, at least one appliance for heating in most new California homes and buildings will likely be powered with electricity, rather than gas.” Maintaining its reputation for policy leadership in energy conservation and widespread adoption of eco-friendly energy sources, California’s new building code “is thought to be first in the country to make heat pumps the baseline technology for a building code.” Adding electric heat pumps to homes and businesses across California will reduce energy consumption and limit emissions.

How This Change Will Impact Homeowners and Businesses in California

For now, heat pumps are not yet required in new residential and nonresidential buildings in California. Laura Agadoni explains in her September 2021 article for MillionAcres. According to Agadoni, the proposed building code update “won't ban natural gas -- which is what environmental groups prefer…it instead makes electric heat pumps the default choice by giving builders incentives if they install heat pumps.” Builders will need to either include one high-efficiency heat pump in new constructions or subject those buildings to more stringent energy efficiency standards. The state will ensure it is cheaper to install heat pumps than to install gas furnaces, but “if incentives and efficiency mandates don't work, we can probably expect to see requirements replace encouragements.”

Some New Homes and Commercial Buildings Built in 2023 Must Have Solar Panels and Battery Storage

In his September 2021 article “California’s Plan to Make New Buildings Greener Will Also Raise Costs” for The New York Times, Ivan Penn describes upcoming changes to Sections 6 and 11 of Title 24. Penn writes that proposed changes to the code aim to limit and reduce “emissions from homes, businesses and other buildings that have to be heated, cooled and powered.” The primary goal of the new building code “is to reduce and eventually eliminate the use of fossil fuels like natural gas, replacing them with electricity generated by renewable sources like solar panels, wind turbines and hydroelectric dams.”

This Fall, Penn writes that California state regulators altered the 2019 code to “require some new homes and commercial buildings to have solar panels and batteries.” According to experts in the clean and renewable energy industry, this “is one of the most sweeping single environmental updates to building codes ever attempted by a government agency.” Until existing homes and businesses can be updated to reflect these changes, the code will focus its efforts on new builds.

How Much Will Changes to this Part of the Code Cost?

Those who have expressed concern about the sweeping new changes to California’s building standards worry that housing in the Golden State might become even more unaffordable. Penn writes that “adding solar panels and a battery to a new home can raise [a new home’s] cost by $20,000 or more.” Though this could be just a drop in the bucket for owners of California’s multimillion dollar estates, “it could be a burden on a family borrowing a few hundred thousand dollars to buy a home.” The typical value of a single family home in California is already $727,370 and is expected to leap past $800,000 in 2022. These changes will not only affect the list prices of new construction homes, however.

Which Types of Buildings Are Subject to These Changes?

Changes to Title 24 Part 6 and 11 apply to most new residential and nonresidential buildings. The changes do not yet apply to existing buildings. Some building types impacted by the Title 24 changes include “schools, hotels, hospitals, office buildings, retailers and grocery stores, apartment buildings and condos above three stories.” Because of this, principal architect Donald J. Ruthroff of Dahlin Group Architecture Planning believes Californians will “‘see the impact in office rents…in the cost of the milk in your grocery store” and in many other areas of the state’s economy.

Is the Cost Worth It?

While these new changes could increase construction costs during a period of already high inflation, regulators and industry experts point to significant cost savings over the next few decades. If we refuse to acknowledge the ravages of climate change and fight them, California will continue to struggle against the destruction wrought by record-breaking wildfires, heat waves, floods and other issues. Destruction from these extreme weather events “collectively add up to billions of dollars in expenses.”

Not only is solar “‘cheap,’” notes California Energy Commission member Andrew McAllister, but it is “‘an amenity that the marketplace actually wants.’” In fact, according to the Associated Press as reported by KTLA, 1.3 million homes in the Golden State are already outfitted with solar panel systems. This amounts to nearly 10% of all single family homes across California and represents more than any other state in the US.

Final Thoughts on California’s 2022 Title 24 Update

Builders, homeowners and architects should keep in mind that the above changes could apply to certain remodels and renovations. More information will be available once the CBSC deliberates in December 2021. We will publish a follow-up post once the code updates have been ratified by the state. In the next couple months, we will also delve into changes to California’s zoning laws. Senate Bill 9 is expected to positively impact California’s housing affordability crisis after it is enacted in 2022. Stay tuned for our upcoming post detailing these projections.

If you plan to design and build a new home in the new year, please do not hesitate to reach out to our team at Element Homes. Our team is well-versed in all of California's building and zoning codes. We would love to help!

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