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Energy Commission poised to boost building energy standards

May 30, 2012|By Marc Lifsher

SACRAMENTO -- California homes and buildings are about to become a lot more energy efficient, if state regulators, as expected, approve new building standards.

The Energy Commission has scheduled for Thursday a last debate and vote on triennial, 2013 energy efficiency rules, the most demanding in the nation. They are 25% more stringent than current standards, approved in 2008, for new homes and about 30% tighter for commercial structures, state experts estimate.

Energy efficiency -- using less electricity and natural gas to run buildings without sacrificing productivity or comfort -- is the priority in California's plan to fight pollution, combat global warming and reduce dependence on imported oil.

"The update for building standards is the biggest incremental improvement in efficiency that we've ever made in California," Commissioner Karen Douglas said.

The proposed new regulations require or recommend that home builders put insulation on hot water pipes, hire independent inspectors to verify proper air conditioner installation and make rooftops more ready for solar power systems. They also recommend the use and set efficiency levels for whole-house fans, upgraded windows and improved wall insulation.

Proposed changes for commercial building include solar-ready roofs, controls that automatically adjust lighting levels depending on sunlight and power-stingy refrigeration equipment.

Tighter energy efficiency rules woud affect all new construction and additions and major retrofits to existing structures. The upgrades by law must be cost-efficient.

To that end, the Energy Commission estimates that the proposed standards would add $2,290 to the initial cost of a 2,200-square-foot home but would yield $6,200 in energy-related savings over 30 years.

The new energy efficiency standards are supported by investor-owned utilities, such asSouthern California Edison Co.; environmental groups; and two major business groups, the California Building Industry Assn., which represents 90% of home builders, and the California Business Properties Assn., which lobbies for commercial building owners.

Leading opponents are the Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Assn. and the American Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute.

Opponents argue that the changes are based on insufficient data and would unnecessarily raise construction costs.

Douglas counters that the measures involve "off-the-shelf" technology that "is capable of being deployed at scale in the market."

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