California Law Mandates All New Homes Be Outfitted With Solar Panels By 2020

Go green or go home.

Starting January 1, 2020, all new homes built in California will be outfitted with solar panels. The new rule will apply to all homes, apartment buildings, and condos three stories or under.

The California Energy Commission voted unanimously for the housing mandate, which also includes new insulation and air filter requirements for newly built homes. More than 80,000 new homes are built every year in California. The requirements are expected to add $9,500 to the cost of a home, or $40 a month on a 30-year-mortgage. However, the energy savings to the homeowner will save $80 a month, making the measure not just energy smart but money smart.

“The cash flow position of the homeowners is actually improved in these homes,” said Commissioner Andrew McAllister.

The main impetus behind the measure, however, is California’s effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030. The state, long at the forefront of environmental initiatives, sets a higher standard for appliance energy efficiency, fuel economy standards in automobiles, and toxins. Often, California’s standards become the nation’s standards as manufacturers opt to produce one product that can be sold everywhere, rather than a separate, more efficient one for California.

California is already the largest solar market in the US, with 20 percent of new homes coming with solar panels. “Adoption of these standards represents a quantum leap in statewide building standards,” Bob Raymer, senior engineer of the California Building Industry Association, said. “You can bet the other 49 states will be watching closely what happens.”

Arizona, another state with abundant sunshine, is considering such a measure. “Solar has really taken off in Arizona,” said Bret Fanshaw with Environment Arizona. “We should look into ways to make that happen.”

Businesses involved in the solar panel production, installation and energy storage industries, such as Sunrun, the largest US solar installer, and Tesla, which is developing a range of solar-powered technologies, backed the measure. Critics, however, say housing is already too expensive in California, and the upfront $9,500 to outfit homes with a solar system could exacerbate inflated housing costs, even though on a monthly basis, the panels immediately save more money than they cost by reducing heating and cooling bills.

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