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New Code Hikes West Coast Building Performance

California Energy Commission’s 2022 building code includes mandatory electric appliances and rooftop solar for new construction statewide.

Starting in 2023, new buildings in California must use less energy, and cut carbon pollution, through reduced use of fossil fuels for energy, according to the California Energy Commission (CEC)’s 2022 update of its building code. Requirements include use of residential electric heat pump space and water heating, versus units powered by natural gas. 

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Major building code changes, including increased residential electric heat pump installations and solar power requirements for non-residential structures, will impact new construction in California and elsewhere as of 2023. Credit: CEC

The 2022 code also extends the 2019 code’s rooftop solar requirements from apartments, adding solar and storage requirements to new multifamily and non-residential buildings. The changes could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 10 million metric tons over the 30-year life of a building, CEC notes.

According to Pierre Delforge, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)’s senior scientist of building decarbonization, the code update shouldn’t be taken lightly. More than 100,000 new housing units, and more than 100 million square feet of non-residential offices, retail, and other non-residential buildings are built every year in California. 

“Every new building needs new heating, cooling, and hot water equipment, whereas furnaces and water heaters only get replaced once every 15 to 20 years in existing buildings,” Delforge says. “New construction, therefore, commands a significant share of the equipment market.”

California’s shift to zero-emission buildings will also have an impact beyond the state’s borders. Most new construction over the next several decades will occur in countries that are developing or strengthening their own building energy codes. “They often look at California and other climate leaders for inspiration, so we can expect California’s policy to have global impacts,” Delforge says.