Cleaning California’s Home Stock

California continues to move toward energy efficiency as the California Energy Commission updates their codes to use less and save more


California is again demonstrating leadership in building the successful clean air economy. The 2019 building energy standards, adopted by the California Energy Commission (CEC) in May, will result in new homes that use 53 percent less energy than those built under the 2016 Code. Non-residential buildings will also improve their energy use by 30 percent. All new homes will be prescriptively required to feature rooftop solar systems and verification of properly installed insulation.

The CEC works actively with stakeholders to update these standards every three years. The California Building Industry Association (CBIA) has been a key player in the process of updating the standards, and the building industry support of the 2019 energy code.

“We are especially appreciative of the CEC’s willingness to work with industry to significantly reduce overall compliance costs and provide increased design flexibility,” stated Robert Raymer, Senior Engineer of the CBIA.

Even though the 2019 Standards will come short of meeting the Energy Commissions 2020 targets of 100 percent Zero Net Energy residential buildings, they are still aggressively driving the industry closer to meeting their goals. Despite the focus on solar, energy efficiency is still the priority of the new standards and photovoltaic is secondary. The current 2016 standards allow credit for Solar Photovoltaic offsetting energy efficiency to meet compliance, but will no longer be an option under the new standards.

As renewable systems continue to increase, grid harmonization is a key focus for Commissioner McAllister, who leads the Energy Efficiency group at the Energy Commission, recognizing the priority for generation resources. The new standards promote “strategies that maximize self-utilization of the PV output and limit exports to the grid,” noted by Mazi Shirakh of the Building Energy Efficiency standards. Battery storage systems play a crucial role in optimizing the electric grid as a dynamic device that brings benefits to the environment, grid, and occupants. Battery storage coupled with a PV system will be a compliance option. Properly sized photovoltaic systems are also a key factor to stabilizing the grid.

One significant update to the 2019 standards is the level playing field for all-electric and dual fuel homes. Studies by the commission have shown that Electrified buildings have the lowest CO2 emissions. Southern California Edison stands behind the new standards and commented at the adoption hearing, “SCE supports the proposed prescriptive compliance option that allows for a domestic hot water heating system baseline with electric heat pump water heaters, as it is an important step in supporting the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals and broadens customer choice.” The Energy Commission recognizes the need to move to a more GHG-based metric that promotes electrification. The Sierra Club urges the commission to, “align the Building Energy Efficiency Standards with the states climate goals by raising the bar for climate-friendly buildings.” California’s variety of weather conditions throughout the state impact the efficiency of the various energy measures such as windows, insulation and photovoltaic systems. California has 16 climate zones, based primarily on energy use, temperature, and weather. Cost effectiveness of all standards in each zone is of high importance to the commission and they have used life cycle costing to verify each measure. This process analyzes all costs related to the building and its operations to maintain an energy conservation measure over a period of time.

On average, home building costs will increase by $9,500 to pay for the improvements, but there will be an average utility savings of $19,000 over a 30-year period. The average homebuyer’s monthly mortgage will increase by $40, but they would see an average $80 reduction in energy costs, resulting in a positive cash flow. The state is facing a housing crisis, making affordability for homeowners critical and creating an affordable, comfortable, and efficient home key. “For housing to be affordable, it’s not just upfront costs, but its ongoing operating costs,” said Rachel Golden, a senior campaign representative at the Sierra Club.

Ruby Rose Yepez is part of the Codes & Standards team at SCE and is on the Board of Directors for both USGBC-LA and the California Association of Building Energy Consultants (CABEC). For more information please visit