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Via LA Times:

When Irvine-based City Ventures started sticking solar panels on all of its homes six years ago, the builder emerged as a front-runner in the race toward energy-efficient home building. Soon it will be joined on the track by every developer in California.

Starting in 2020, California will become the first state in the nation to require all newly built homes to be solar-powered. And many developers are figuring out how to comply with the new rules while keeping their houses affordable.

The California Building Standards Commission approved the mandate this month, finalizing a unanimous vote from the California Energy Commission in May as part of the state’s ongoing battle against climate change. The rule applies to all single-family and multifamily residences of three stories or fewer.

“Too many home builders provide these features as an add-on, but that gives buyers a complicated choice,” City Ventures Chief Executive Phil Kerr said. “We felt it best to make solar power a standard part of the home, like bedrooms or countertops. Why wait until 2020?”

The Energy Commission estimates that solar panels will save homeowners an average of $19,000 over 30 years but add roughly $8,400 to the upfront cost of a single-family home — probably pricing many potential buyers out of the market.

According to a study from the National Assn. of Home Builders, every $1,000 increase to the cost of a home makes 52,903 households unable to afford a house. At that rate, a jump of $8,400 would keep about 1.28 million households from buying a home.

Affordability is the main concern for the California Building Industry Assn., which represents around 3,100 builders across the state and 85% of all new single-family and multifamily housing production.

“For $2-million homes, these mandates might not be a big deal,” Chief Executive Dan Dunmoyer said. “But in markets like San Bernardino, this will be a factor for thousands of families trying to buy homes.”

The Energy Commission worked closely with developers over the last five or six years to give the industry some flexibility.

“Our hope is that this didn’t blindside anyone,” said commission spokeswoman Amber Beck, adding that the agency held meetings and took comments from stakeholders.

A decade ago, the state set a goal to reach net-zero energy use in residential homes by 2020, meaning homes produce enough energy to offset all their electric and natural gas needs. The solar panel mandate represents a step toward that goal.

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