Understanding the Energy Standards Required by California’s Title 24

By Annabelle Mathis, Engineering Analyst, LEED Green Associate
and Davis Ray, Engineering Analyst
Sustainable Investment Group (SIG)

Over the past 50 years, energy standards have risen to the forefront of environmental policy as a means of reducing energy consumption and lowering the amount of Carbon Dioxide we currently put into the atmosphere (CO2). The benefits of energy efficiency in both commercial and non-commercial buildings include:  

  • Lower energy costs 
  • Lower environmental impact 
  • Increased reliability and availability of electricity 
  • Improved building occupant comfort 

The map below shows the strictness of each state’s energy code, and as expected, California leads the nation with Title 24 at the forefront of building standards.  

California's Title 24 | map of U.S. Energy Code Regulations by State

(Source: https://www.alconlighting.com/blog/home/the-regulation-catch-up) 

What is Title 24? 

Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations, also known as the California Building Standards Code or simply “Title 24,” contains the regulations that govern the construction of residential and non-residential buildings in California. It was first enacted in 1978 following the 1973 oil embargo, as an effort to reduce the state’s aggregate energy consumption. Since then, it has grown to encompass the entirety of the state-adopted building code and has been expanded into 12 parts (electrical, mechanical, plumbing, energy, etc.) that work together to create a framework for economical, sustainable solutions for California’s new building construction projects. New editions of the code are published every three years, with an upcoming update in 2019 (which will take effect in 2020) as the last was 2016. 

Specifically, Parts 6 and 11, the California Energy Code and the California Green Building Standards Code (CALGreen), address the need for regulations to improve energy efficiency and combat climate change. Because of the success of these standards and other energy efficiency efforts in California, the state’s per capita electricity consumption has dropped 24% over the last 40 years, while the per capita energy consumption for the whole nation has only decreased 4%. 

 Note: In the construction industry, “Title 24” is often used to refer specifically to the energy efficiency standards which are now outlined in Title 24, Part 6 – California Energy Code; however, the State of California uses the term in reference to the building standards code in its entirety. 

What are the basics of Part 6? 

Part 6 is divided into two parts: mandatory requirements for all buildings and two compliance approaches; performance, and prescriptive. The performance approach meets compliance by showing that a proposed energy budget (i.e. energy consumption per square foot of floor space) is equal to or better than an established baseline, allowing builders freedom in their designs. This baseline varies by climate zone and building type, so the standards are tailored to local conditions. This is important as there are 16 climate zones in California! Alternatively, the prescriptive approach involves a compliance checklist, allowing builders to comply using energy efficiency methods previously established to be effective. 

What updates were made in 2016? 

The 2016 update of Part 6 focuses on improving the energy efficiency of newly constructed buildings and any additions and alterations to existing buildings. For residential buildings, this entails improvements for attic and wall insulation, water heating, and lighting to improve efficiency. For non-residential buildings, the most significant change was alignment with ASHRAE 90.1 2013 national standards. In addition, new efficiency requirements for elevators and Direct Digital Control (DDC) were implemented. As always, the update included other various changes throughout to improve clarity, consistency, and readability of the regulations.  

What impact will these have? 

Based on an initial study of the 2016 update, the Energy Commission staff estimated the statewide annual energy usage reductions of the following: 

  • Electricity consumption by 281 gigawatt-hours 
  • Electrical peak demand by 195 MW 
  • Natural gas consumption by 16 million therms 

In addition, the potential effect of these energy savings on air quality and greenhouse gas emissions include the annual net reduction in emissions of the following: 

  • 508 tons of Nitric Oxide 
  • 13 tons of Sulfur Oxides 
  • 41 tons of Carbon Monoxide 
  • 160 thousand metric tons CO2e per year 

The current Building Energy Efficiency Standards, which contains Part 6, can be found here: https://www.energy.ca.gov/2015publications/CEC-400-2015-037/CEC-400-2015-037-CMF.pdf 

What is the purpose of CALGreen (Title 24, Part 11)? 

With the third and most recent edition being released in 2016 (taking effect in 2017), CALGreen was the first statewide green building code issued in the US, applying to the planning, design, operation, construction, use and occupancy of every newly constructed building in California. The purpose of the CALGreen code is to improve public health, safety, and general welfare through the use of building concepts with either a positive environmental impact or at least a mitigation of the negative impacts. The code itself contains both mandatory and voluntary measures in the following sustainable construction practices: 

  1. Planning and design 
  2. Energy efficiency 
  3. Water efficiency and conservation 
  4. Material conservation and resource efficiency 
  5. Environmental quality 

Each of these sections outline their own items that can be met and accumulated for compliance. Some of the updates to the code, as of 2016, include providing secure bicycle and clean air vehicle parking, reducing waste steam alternative to 65%, and implementing water reuse systems.  

The CALGreen code includes many requirements that are supplementary to those found in other parts of Title 24, including Part 6. For example, CALGreen outlines a commissioning process that complements the commissioning process required in Part 6. This is just one instance where the different parts of Title 24 work together to form a cohesive building code.  

More details on the 2016 CALGreen code can be found here: https://www.documents.dgs.ca.gov/bsc/CALGreen/CALGreen-Guide-2016-FINAL.pdf    

How can Sustainable Investment Group (SIG) help you? 

With an office conveniently located in downtown San Francisco, SIG provides numerous services to ensure that existing buildings and new projects not only meet their goals set for green performance but surpass them. As a LEED Proven Provider®, we have helped many clients attain their individual needs through our in-house consulting and engineering services. Once we commit to a project, we take it all the way and treat every project with the same attention and care as it were our own office.

In the last two years  SIG has achieved LEED certification for 107 projects: 61.4 million SF for Existing Buildings (85 projects) and 9 million SF for New Construction (22 projects). Our Technical Services department has performed services to include Energy Modeling, Fundamental and/or Enhanced Commissioning, and additional services for over 50 sustainability projects comprising 50M SF. We are confident that we can help your project exceed its goals whether that be commissioning, retro-commissioning, energy auditing, ENERGY STAR benchmarking, and/or energy modeling.

Outside of San Francisco, we also have offices located in Atlanta, GA, Boulder, CO, New York, NY, and Minneapolis, MN, as SIG is happy to work with building owners and managers across the country looking for more information about energy benchmarking and energy solutions. 

For questions on how SIG can help you navigate California’s Title 24 green building initiatives or regarding information on integrating energy solutions, please contact Nick Kassanis, who heads up our San Francisco office and can be reached at  nickk@sigearth.com

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