California Local Governments Lead on Existing Building Codes - CivicWell

News & Media

California Local Governments Lead on Existing Building Codes

Contributed to CURRENTS by the Building Decarbonization Coalition.

Climate Change & Energy


November 28, 2022


Leading the charge:

Over the past three years, over 60 jurisdictions in California have adopted ordinances to require or encourage electrification of new construction. Inspired by this action, the state adopted several measures that encourage electric end uses in the 2022 Energy Code (Title 24, Part 6), including electric readiness requirements and new baselines for electric heat pumps. Since 2019, most ordinances have focused on new construction with a few jurisdictions, like Piedmont and Encinitas, passing ordinances with electrification measure options for residential renovation projects. In preparation for the 2022 code cycle taking effect in January 2023, however, several jurisdictions have adopted ordinances that require electrification of existing buildings that can serve as new models.

A new spark:

On October 26th, 2022, the Town of Portola Valley became the first jurisdiction in California to adopt an electrification requirement for home renovations. The requirement is triggered by the replacement or upgrade of a main electric panel and/or the installation of an existing air conditioning condensing unit. Depending on the scope of work, the ordinance requires electric-readiness measures and installation of a heat pump instead of a one way air conditioner. Heat pump technology is very similar to a traditional air conditioner, with the added benefit of providing highly efficient cooling and heating.

Like Portola Valley, the City of San Mateo’s ordinance requires installation of heat pump air conditioning when new air conditioning is installed or replaced in existing residences. In addition, the ordinance requires heat pump water heater installation during addition and alteration projects that include water heater replacement, and it prohibits the extension of fuel gas infrastructure into backyards for uses such as fire pits, grills, and pools.

Palo Alto’s ordinance shares the latter two measures with San Mateo while adding a new definition for when “substantial remodels” trigger all-electric requirements. Taken together with Marin County’s menu of energy efficiency and electrification measures that project applicants choose from to meet a target energy score, these jurisdictions introduce six novel existing building measures that other jurisdictions can consider in their building decarbonization approaches. Summary table below:

Charging ahead:

More than 75% of California’s 20 million buildings were built before the Building Energy Efficiency Standards were developed in 1978. Decarbonizing existing buildings poses challenges, but it’s a necessary strategy towards achieving California’s greenhouse gas reduction and clean air goals. Starting with Berkeley in 2019, local jurisdictions have been leading the charge on electrifying buildings, and have the power to help lead the state towards reaping the many economic, health, and climate benefits of attaining these targets.

As we develop strategies to decarbonize existing homes and buildings, it’s critical to keep in mind that approximately 6 million households in California lack the funds to upgrade their homes with clean, electric appliances. With this in mind, we must prioritize frontline communities so that they are not burdened with upfront and operational costs. Funding from the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and California’s $1.4 billion dollar building decarbonization budget is an important first step towards that end. But local jurisdictions should also co-design policies with their local community organizations to ensure implementation has the intended effect. Providing an equitable path towards decarbonization can empower California to reach its all-electric future.