Keep Calm and Build On

California’s Title 24 will help usher in a new era of sustainable homebuilding that is overdue

By ZACK JOHNSTON

To quote a certain prolific songwriter, “the times, they are a-changin’.”

Those words were true when they were written over fifty years ago, and they’re even more true today. In just a few months we will be in a new decade, and a new era of opportunity, unknowns, and of course, new construction regulations.

Needless to say, I’m talking about California’s Title 24 building mandate taking effect the first of January, which will require solar power systems be installed on virtually all new residential construction in the state. More states are expected to follow.

This mandate comes at a time of sweeping environmental action being set in motion to protect our only home and to begin to head off the throes of the climate crisis. To some this all looks to be a larger-than-life task — one doomed to fail from the start. However, those individuals will have reality knocking on their door come 2020, and especially if they’re a homebuilder.

Yet, as we close the book on this decade, Title 24 is not to be some looming monster we’ll have to face. This regulatory response to the growing consensus is just a first step into a brave new world of residential construction that will shape a new vision for home life. There are plenty of reasons to be looking at the new norms of building with excitement, rather than dread.

 

Dollars and Sense

The need to seriously revamp our housing landscape has arguably never been felt more strongly. It’s a complex industry that gave us the American dream, but has also been a thorn in the side of individuals most concerned with affordability and sustainability in their housing.

As the industry presses forward, leaders should be focused on decisions that best pro- pel their business into this next phase rather than on short-term benefits of keeping with the status quo.

Right now the residential building needs are loud and clear; the overall cost of owning and operating a home needs to be reduced, as does the impact of our energy consuming habits on the environment.

One of the most important things to remember with the mandate is that this is about building our future, and about preparing the industry for a seismic shift.

Title 24 takes each of these concerns head-on simultaneously. It lays the foundation for how we will transform the housing sector and make homes affordable and efficient. If builders remain reluctant, it’s likely because they see ini- tial building costs rise as a result of mandated solar energy use, but as Director of Economic Research at Meyers Research, Ali Wolf, points out, even the average price increase of $10,000 on a single-family residence can be offset by the renewable energy savings.

“If you average that $10,000 over the life of the mortgage, it’s a $40 change in the mortgage payment,” Wolf said in an interview with Builder and Developer. “Estimated by the California Energy Commission, you actually save, on average, $80 a month because of the more efficient energy.”

 

The Time is Now

While change comes with its own set of difficulties, our building codes are indeed changing and it will be a rude awakening for the builders putting off the transition until the bitter end.

To some, Title 24 might seem like a ticking time bomb, when it should be more like a celebration countdown. There will be learning curve, most definitely, but this is really about putting the “home” back in homebuilding.

“There’s going to be a perception problem, and it’s just trying to find a way to communicate the benefits,” Wolf said. “Whether it’s using real-life examples of people that live in your community already, or whether it’s just going through the math…it needs to not feel like a sales tactic. It needs to feel like this is actually going to benefit you.”

Many in the industry have been quick to embrace the new-coming regulations, and some are even exceeding the requirements. Rather than see new efficiency standards as a reason to get reactionary and competitive, now is the time to be creative and innovative.

“Getting started today is much easier than it was 10 years ago,” writes Glenna Wilson, Co-owner of Charis Homes. “And once you find the right contractors and understand the requirements, you should be able to integrate it into your homebuilding process seamlessly.”

One of the most important things to remember with the mandate is that this is about building our future, and about preparing the industry for a seismic shift. For it to succeed, builders have to mindful of where the industry is moving and to adapt to new advancements.

In her column, Wilson describes using solar-ready construction, a technique that allows future owners to attach additional solar panels, “without worrying about the structural load, wiring, or space on the circuit breakers,” she writes.

According to Peter Straight, Supervisor of Standards Development Unit for California Energy Commission, the best thing for builders to do is to keep calm, and know what’s available.

“There are good solar suppliers out there that you can work with,” Straight said. “There’s a thriving market of experienced installers. This isn’t going to be as hard as it might seem now.”

The resources are available. As long as the commitment and the passion are there, then builders should have no reason to worry.

Zack Johnston is an Assistant Editor for Builder and Developer Magazine. He can be reached at zack@builder.media.

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