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California’s Bid to Make New Buildings Greener Will Raise Cost

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Codes + Standards

California’s Bid to Make New Buildings Greener Will Raise Cost

Some energy and building experts say California’s building code update that will require new homes and commercial buildings to switch from natural gas to electric heating, cooling, and power will drive up the state’s already high construction costs


August 31, 2021
Switching from fossil fuels to renewable sources
Photo: stock.adobe.com

Some energy and building experts warn that California’s building code update to require new homes and commercial buildings to switch from natural gas to electric heating, cooling, and power will drive up the state’s already high construction costs. 

The idea behind the code is to replace the use of fossil fuels with electricity generated by renewable sources. Although existing buildings would make for a larger and better target, making the switch would be more difficult than applying the requirements to structures that haven’t been built yet.

“The urgency of climate change has gone up,” said Andrew McAllister, a member of the California Energy Commission, which developed and approved the building code changes. “We know we’ve got to get on the stick and do something.”

Michael Marini, who co-owns a company that builds homes in Southern California, said he generally supports making buildings greener but he fears that the state is not thinking through the consequences of the changes it is pushing through.

Mr. Marini’s company, Planet Home Living, is adding rooftop solar panels in his latest projects, including townhouse-style and single-family homes in Los Angeles, as required by a previous change to the state’s building code that took effect last year. Those homes start at close to $1 million and go as high as $2 million. Buyers of those properties will not flinch at having to pay an extra $10,000 to $15,000 for solar panels, he said. Mr. Marini is also not worried about the new code change that will require him to add a home battery at a cost of about $5,000 starting in 2023.

But in other locations like San Bernardino, a far less affluent city east of Los Angeles, where the typical home sells for about $529,000, the cost of solar panels and batteries can be a bigger burden to home buyers.

“If we push it and we do things that are modern and efficient and green, we tend to be able to do it in Los Angeles,” Mr. Marini said. “That’s not entirely true in the rest of the country. We can’t do that in San Bernardino. At the end, the consumer absorbs the cost.”

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