The Rise of Reach Codes

Last week, the California Energy Commission (CEC) adopted energy efficiency standards to be included in the 2022 state building standards (Title 24, Part 6). The new energy code will further increase building energy efficiency and reduce emissions from California buildings when they go into effect January 1, 2023. But what will these new state standards mean for the many local governments across the state that are have adopted or are in the process of adopting reach codes that go beyond what the state is currently requiring?

Reach Codes in California

Since January 2020, the number of reach codes that have gone into effect across California have almost doubled from the collective 6 years prior. More and more, jurisdictions are finding reach codes to be an effective and readily available mechanism to achieve the greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions they commit to in their climate action plans (CAPs).

In California, reach codes are local ordinances adopted by jurisdictions (cities and counties), which require more stringent building standards than those imposed at the state level through Title 24. While local ordinances can address any number of things—from water conservation to electric vehicle charging infrastructure—it is the energy-related reach codes that have seen a remarkable change, both in number and scope, in recent years (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Number of Local Reach Adopted in California (2013-June 2021)

California’s building standards are updated triennially; the current 2019 code went into effect January 1, 2020. Each set of standards gradually tightens the energy efficiency requirements for new construction and qualifying additions and alterations (this is Part 6 of Title 24). As the state gradually tightens energy requirements with each code cycle, however, cities must reconsider what they can feasibly require to surpass statewide standards.

The need to meet or exceed new state Title 24 energy code requirements, paired with an increasing push to reduce emissions, have led to an evolution in local government reach code requirements (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Type of Reach Codes Adopted in California

Early reach codes centered on solar photovoltaic (PV) systems and general energy efficiency requirements (e.g., requiring CalGreen Tier 1 requirements), trends that have carried through to present. The one caveat is that early PV ordinances tended to focus on residential construction. This push for residential PV sent a signal to the State that acceptance was growing for this type of requirement and likely influenced the decision to include a residential PV mandate in the 2019 state building standards. Since there is no longer a need for a residential PV requirement at the jurisdiction level, PV reach codes now focus entirely on the nonresidential sector.

What was not seen prior to 2019 was the adoption of all-electric construction requirements. In the current triannual code cycle, thirty-five jurisdictions have some type of electrification ordinance now in effect with a handful more in the adoption process. These types of ordinances look beyond reducing energy consumption and aim to achieve significant GHG emission reductions in the new building stock (again, this is driven primarily through local climate planning efforts). Emissions associated with all-electric buildings are expected to decline substantially over time as the amount of renewable content in the electricity supply increases.

But not all electrification ordinances are alike, and requirements across the state fall along a broad spectrum (Figure 3). Despite this spectrum, it’s clear that many local governments are willing to go all-in (or at least close to it).

Figure 3. Spectrum of Electrification Options in Current Reach Codes

The City of Encinitas is working to become the first jurisdiction in the San Diego region with all-electric new construction requirements.[1] Their proposed ordinance will be heading to City Council for approval this month. As other jurisdictions update their CAPs, we anticipate these requirements to become more common within the San Diego region.

The Statewide Reach Codes Program has done a great job tracking reach codes adopted across the State. A map of where these ordinances have been adopted and additional reach code resources can be accessed through their website.

Reach Codes and the Upcoming 2022 State Standards

The CEC adopted the draft 2022 energy code language and, as expected, the Title 24 energy code will be tightening standards once again. If adopted as written, the 2022 standards will follow the lead of many adopted local government reach codes by requiring solar photovoltaic systems in new nonresidential construction. Unlike the trend in reach codes, however, the draft standards stop short of going all-in on all-electric.

Where proposed requirements for residential construction do integrate electrification is in electric ready and prescriptive water heating requirements. For all new residential construction, the proposed standards set electric ready (e.g., pre-wiring for electric appliances) requirements as a minimum for most end uses, including cooking, clothes dryer, and space and water heating.

For residential water heating, new single-family homes in certain climate zones, including zone 7 which covers much of coastal San Diego, electric heat pump water heaters (HPWHs) will be the standard. For all multi-family units and in climate zones where HPWHs are not required for single family units, new projects can still use gas for water heating, but storage tanks have been replaced with a requirement for more efficient instantaneous systems.

In any case, the upcoming standards leave plenty of room for cities and counties to continue to push electrification beyond the state and we can expect to see more jurisdictions moving forward with reach codes as they pursue their GHG targets.


[1] EPIC has been hired by the City of Encinitas to support the development of their ordinance.

About Marc Steele

Marc is a Technical Policy Analyst with the Energy Policy Initiatives Center (EPIC), an academic and research center of the University of San Diego School of Law. His work focuses on developing greenhouse gas emissions inventories, assessing mitigation measures for local jurisdictions and the San Diego region, and advancing the integration of economic tools into climate planning.
This entry was posted in climate planning, Energy, Energy Efficiency, GHGs, Renewable Energy, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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