Green Building Code Requirements

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Introduction

The recently adopted Reach Codes will go into effect on December 16 at 5 p.m.

At their November 14 meeting, the City Council adopted the 2022 Proposed Green Building and Local Energy Codes. These Green Building Code Requirements aim to increase water conservation and reduce water loss, lower embodied carbon in new construction projects, reduce fossil fuel use in buildings, and facilitate electric vehicle adoption by community members and visitors to Palo Alto. These goals are consistent with Palo Alto’s sustainability goals, including the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. 

Below are the new requirements that the City Council adopted. The new green building code requirements are in effect 2023 - 2025. 

  1. Require covers for all new pools and spas (no exceptions for solar-heated pools)
  2. Require newly constructed cooling towers to achieve the maximum number of cycles to optimize process water use
  3. Adopt low-carbon concrete standards for all new construction projects
  4. Require new detached Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) to be all-electric
  5. Require all new, non-residential construction to be all-electric
  6. Require heat pump water heater when an existing water heater is replaced or a new water heater is added as part of a residential addition and/or alteration project
  7. Prohibit new gas infrastructure for outdoor equipment such as pools, spas, and BBQ grills
  8. Expand EV charging infrastructure requirements for new construction projects above the State minimum requirements
  9. Adopt a "Substantial Remodel" definition that triggers the all-electric building requirements. The proposed definition is as follows:
  • For the purposes of electrification, substantial remodel shall mean the alteration of any structure, including any cumulative project or additions to the existing structure within any three (3) year period*, affects the removal or replacement 50% or more of the linear length of the existing exterior walls of the building, 50% or more of the linear length of the existing exterior wall plate height is raised, and/or 50% or more of the existing roof framing area.  The Chief Building Official or designee shall make the final determination regarding the application if a conflict occurs. *The 3-year period is measured between the first building permit issuance to the submittal of the next building permit application for any remodel or building addition.

Find the November 14 Staff Report here, item 6.

Review this summary document(PDF, 149KB) that outlines the existing green building and energy reach codes that the City plans to carry forward, the new requirements, as well as measures that were considered but not proposed for the coming code cycle.

Background

Every three years, the State of California adopts new building standards that are codified in Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations, referred to as the California Building Standards Code. While the State sets the minimum building standards, local jurisdictions can enact more stringent local building standards based on unique local climatic, geologic, and topographic conditions. 

The goal of Palo Alto’s Green Building Ordinance and Energy Reach Code is to design, build, and operate a new generation of efficient, environmentally responsible, and healthy buildings. These local ordinances establish standards that exceed the state’s Building Energy Efficiency Standards and Green Building Standards, which in turn cover the areas of water efficiency, material conservation, resource efficiency, indoor air quality, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. The Palo Alto Green Building Ordinance applies to new construction projects as well as additions and alterations projects. 

Timeline and Community Engagement

  • Milestone 1

    03/2022 - 05/2022

    Develop Green Building and Local Energy Reach Code Proposals

  • Milestone 2

    06/2022 - 08/2022

    Public Engagement Meetings

  • Milestone 3

    17/10/2022

    Council first reading on proposed amendments to the 2022 Building Codes

  • Milestone 4

    14/11/2022

    Council 2nd reading and adoption of proposed amendments to the 2022 Building Codes

  • Milestone 5

    16/12/2022

    The 2022 adopted green building reach code will go into effect on Friday, December 16 at 5 p.m.

  • Final Milestone

    01/01/2023

    Target Effective Date

History

Palo Alto was one of the first in the nation to adopt a Climate Protection Plan in 2007. In 2016, Palo Alto City Council committed to an ambitious a goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% of its 1990 levels by 2030. The City has long used green building and energy reach regulations as a strategy for achieving its climate action and sustainability goals. The City adopted its first set of Green Building Ordinance and Energy Reach Code in 2008 and has since adopted expanded versions every three years during the Building Code adoption process.

Palo Alto has been a pioneer in adopting innovative green building and building energy efficiency mandates. Below are a few examples:

  • EV-readiness for all new detached single-family homes since 2013
  • EV-readiness for all residential units in new multifamily buildings since 2014
  • Dual plumbing for potable and recycle water systems for toilet and urinal flushing in certain non-residential buildings since 2015
  • Increased energy efficiency standards for mixed-fueled new construction projects above the State’s building energy efficiency standards (Title 24)

For the 2020-2022 building code cycle, City Council adopted an all-electric mandate for new low-rise residential buildings, with an exemption for detached ADUs. Mixed-fuel nonresidential new construction projects were required to exceed the State’s building efficiency standards by 5-12%, and also pre-wired for future electrification. 

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