The modern movement toward more sustainable-energy practices has touched almost every aspect of our daily lives. From renewable power to electric vehicles (EVs), few of these changes have gone unnoticed, and the trend affects almost everyone in one way or another.
There is always some fear in major transformations that burdensome or even draconian changes will be imposed from the top down. Renewable-energy standards and demand-response programs have a tendency to feed that fear. The good news is that the change to less polluting and less gluttonous forms of energy consumption doesn’t necessarily have to hurt.
The push for greater energy efficiency is just one element in the larger effort to change the way we use power. California has been setting and gradually raising the bar for reduced energy use in residential and commercial buildings for more than 30 years. New standards that went into effect this summer show that some of the best ways to increase energy efficiency can be painless and also maybe not even noticed at all.
California’s Energy Efficiency Standards for Residential and Non-Residential Buildings, which are part 6 of the state’s Building Standards Code (familiarly known as Title 24 for short), were originally adopted by the Building Standards Commission in 1978 in response to new legislation. Intended to help the state reduce its energy consumption, the state’s energy commission updates them about every three years to allow for the consideration and adoption of new technologies and practices in the field.
Adopted in 2013, the latest update went into effect on July 1 of this year. Its many changes affect everything from windows to ductwork in residential and nonresidential (commercial) buildings. Unless they count ductwork and window installations among their specialties, electrical contractors (ECs) will not be affected by many of these changes. The update is especially benign for ECs working on single-family residential. However, the effect on ECs doing commercial work will be much greater.
There are still some important changes that specifically concern residential electrical work. ECs doing residential work in California will want to become familiar with them so they can properly estimate in their proposals. The changes, while not particularly dramatic, will still do their part to help make California residences even more energy-efficient than they already are.
Forty years of efficiency
Already, the state’s energy-efficiency standards have helped California save an enormous amount of electricity over the last three decades. According to the California Energy Commission (CEC), residents of the state have saved more than $740 billion in reduced electricity bills since 1977. The standards have also helped the state avoid the need for more power plants and, amazingly, have helped California maintain the same level of per capita electricity consumption over the last four decades. Meanwhile, the rest of the country’s per capita consumption increased at a rapid pace to the point where it is now almost double California’s rate.
With all of this as background, it would be fair to wonder if California hasn’t already done enough. In other words, why tighten the standards any further?
Mazi Shirakh is the senior mechanical engineer and project manager for Building Energy Efficiency Standards for the CEC. Given his position, he is understandably prejudiced about the need for, and the ability of, the new standards to achieve even greater reductions of electricity consumption.
To put things into perspective, Shirakh said the 2013 standards will result in a whopping 80 percent reduction in energy use from 1978 levels when the first set of standards were adopted. He explained that the goal of the updated standards is to make the building envelope and lighting equipment as efficient as possible, and he said that the changes will result in a net benefit to the owner.
So what provisions in the 2013 update will most affect the EC? Not surprisingly, most of the relevant changes apply to lighting. That is where efficiency standards can have some of their biggest effects in the home and still be moderately inconspicuous.
“Fifty percent of the watts in a home’s lighting must come from high efficacy sources,” Shirakh said. “High and low efficacy sources must be on different circuits.”
What is considered a high efficacy source? Jeff Pollock is the owner and manager of Technologic Energy Consulting, located in Valencia, Calif., as well as the 2014 chairman of the board of directors for the California Association of Building Energy Consultants. He said that the lighting-efficacy requirements have been simplified since the last update in 2008, and he said that luminaire type determines efficacy.
The new regulations provide two tables to help designers and installers determine what kind of lighting is considered high or low efficacy. Table 150.0-A defines high and low efficacy light sources by type. By looking at the lumens per watt (LPW) ratio, Table 150.0-B determines the efficiency of any light source that Table A does not list.
In short, fixtures that Table A considers high efficacy are designed for compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and certain types of other lamps, such as pulse-start metal halide lamps and high-pressure sodium lamps. Fixtures that Table A considers low efficacy are designed for inefficient lamps, such as incandescent, and high efficiency lamps (CFL and LED) with screw bases. The table notes that adapters that convert an incandescent lampholder to a high-efficiency luminaire are not considered high efficacy.
As an example from Table B, a luminaire with a rating of 5 watts (W) or less must provide at least 30 LPW to be considered high efficacy. A luminaire that is rated for greater than 40W must provide 90 LPW to be considered high efficacy.
Aside from lamp type, the updated standards also impose requirements for different rooms. This is another area where the CEC has demonstrated its understanding of methods to finesse behavior modification for more efficient use of electricity.
The new standards require at least one high efficacy light source in every room of the house, but they also allow for what Shirakh calls “off-ramps.” These alternatives enable designers to reach efficiency goals while still making allowances for personal preferences in the home.
In bedrooms, for example, dimmers are allowed with low efficacy fixtures. In bathrooms, light sources must be high efficacy but may also be low efficacy if they are combined with a manual-on vacancy sensor. The requirements for bathrooms were also separated out from the requirements for utility rooms, garages and hallways in the new standards. In the 2008 standards, the requirements for all of these rooms were grouped together.
Also in the new standards, the requirements for utility rooms, garages and hallways are stricter than they are for bathrooms. Unlike the bathroom requirements, utility rooms, garages and hallways must have high efficacy light sources and vacancy sensors together. There are no allowances for preferences or human behavior in these areas of the home.
Clean air and less energy too
Lighting is not the only aspect of home energy use affected by the new energy-efficiency standards. The Title 24 update also addresses air quality in the home.
Shirakh said that, while energy efficiency encourages a well-insulated home, tight homes trap air pollutants for longer than is healthy. That is why the 2013 update includes whole-house fans as a prescriptive (mandatory) requirement to properly ventilate a home and conserve energy. Such fans draw air in through open windows and out through a ventilated attic, allowing occupants to take advantage of temperature differentials in the evening or morning, when the outside temperature is more desirable than the temperature in the home (see page 32 for more on ventilation fans.)
Whole-house fans need open windows to function, and they have a reputation for being noisy. As an alternative, some homeowners prefer smart vents or night breeze, two relatively new forms of ventilation technology that use existing ductwork to draw cool outside air into the home’s ventilation system without having to open windows. The new Title 24 standards allow smart vents or night breeze as an alternative in the state’s climate zones 8 through 14.
In addition to ventilation, the benefit of these devices is their role in energy conservation by enabling the homeowner to cool the house down without having to use the HVAC’s compressor, which is much more energy-intensive.
Michael Kuhlman is president of RCS Technology, based in Rancho Cordova, Calif. The company manufactures smart vents and other energy-efficiency products for the home. He said, “the time to ventilate is not the time to save energy.” That is because, when outside temperatures are cooler, demand for electricity for air conditioning begins to decline.
However, through a process Kuhlman called “intelligent precooling,” a homeowner can take advantage of cooler outside temperatures to lower indoor temperatures and reduce the need to use the air conditioning system later on in the day during times of peak demand.
Solar power, EVs and water heaters
On the subject of hot temperatures, the 2013 Title 24 update also addresses the growing popularity of solar power. While the new standards do not require all homes to have solar panels, guidelines take the necessary steps to ensure that the panels can be easily placed on the roof and tied into the home’s electrical system should the owner opt to install solar-power later on.
Here again, the CEC has decided to take a moderately assertive approach.
“We can’t mandate solar because it’s too expensive,” Shirakh said, adding that the new standards require some things to make sure that homes are at least solar ready.
Specifically, they mandate that each home have a dedicated space on the roof of 250 square feet or more for the future installation of solar panels. A pathway for conduits for the necessary wiring must also be identified, and the electrical panel must have sufficient capacity—a minimum busbar rating of 200 amperes (A)—and a reserved space at the opposite (load) end from the input feeder location or main circuit location for a circuit breaker to accommodate the future current from solar power.
Mike Hodgson, president and owner of Consol, an energy consulting firm in Stockton, Calif., has been a frequent adviser to the CEC on the revised standards. He said, that while the solar provisions are progressive, they are not necessarily a big leap.
“The 200A panel is already the typical installation for new single-family detached construction,” Hodgson said.
What may be more noteworthy, in his view, is a future requirement that is not in the efficiency standards update.
Separate, but related to these standards, is the CalGreen Code, which is represented by a different Part of Title 24. The interim CalGreen Code, which goes into effect in 2015, will require space in the 200A panel for a 40A (fully loaded) circuit breaker for EV readiness, Hodgson said. ECs will want to know that “when they install the 200A panel, they should have room to accommodate this upcoming requirement.”
Hodgson also mentioned one last detail in the 2013 energy-efficiency standards update. This is a requirement for a 120-volt outlet to be within 3 feet of the water heater. He said that this is for future power requirements from water heaters as they become more efficient and need power to vent their combustion byproducts.
All of the new energy-efficient standards in the Title 24 update apply to both new construction and remodels. The only exceptions to this are the solar readiness requirements, which only apply to new construction of subdivisions with 10 homes or more.