New homes in California will be required to be 25% more energy efficient than the current code requires starting January 1, 2014, after new building standards were unanimously accepted by the California Energy Commission (CEC) yesterday.

The new guidelines, which are broken out for residential and non-residential projects, include a series of requirements as well as a list of recommendations which builders can choose from to reach the new energy threshold. Under the new requirements all roofs must be made solar-panel ready, though installation of photovoltaic panels will remain optional; hot water pipes must be insulated; and air conditioner installations must be approved by an independent inspector. Recommendations include options such as including whole-house fans, using windows with a solar heat gain coefficient of 0.25, and boosting wall insulation.

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The commission estimates the cost of meeting the new requirements will average $2,290 per house, but expects those changes to pay for themselves in 18 months and save homeowners $6,200 over the life of a 30-year mortgage. (According to commission data, increased costs from the new standards will add approximately $11 per month to an average 30-year mortgage payment, but the costs will be offset by an average monthly savings of $27 on heating, cooling, and lighting bills.)

Bob Raymer, senior engineer and technical director at the California Building Industry Association, has been pleased with how much consideration the commission gave to costs and the importance of not raising home prices unnecessarily. "Several months ago, it was looking like [the standards would raise prices by] as high as $6,000. The stuff that got the biggest bang for the buck ended up in the regulations," he said on a call with Builder today. "This was one of the more congenial adoption hearings I’ve ever been to."

CEC anticipates that the new standards will save 200 million gallons of water and 170,500 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. It also anticipates that the standards will add up to 3,500 new building industry jobs.

Claire Easley is a senior editor at Builder.