The California Energy Commission on Thursday approved what it called nation-leading efficiency standards for new homes and commercial buildings.
Approved by a 4-0 vote, the upgraded standards include improved windows, insulation, lighting, air-conditioning systems and other features to reduce energy consumption in California homes and businesses by a projected 25 percent or more, compared with previous standards approved in 2008.
The amended standards are due to take effect on Jan. 1, 2014, applying to new construction of houses and buildings. The standards also will apply to major building additions and retrofits.
"These standards are the strongest in the nation giving us the most efficient buildings in the nation," said Commissioner Karen Douglas. "The package that the commission approved is the greatest savings increment that the commission has ever achieved in a standards update in over 30 years."
The CEC said energy efficiency standards it has approved have saved Californians more than $66 billion in electricity and natural gas costs since 1978.
The new standards come as California's residential and commercial real estate markets are staggering to regain their footing after being steamrolled by the recession.
The commission stressed that while the new standards will make houses and buildings more expensive to build, that will be overridden by numerous benefits.
The commission said the standards will increase the cost of building a new house by $2,290, on average, but will return more than $6,200 in energy savings over 30 years.
Based on a 30-year mortgage, the CEC said, the new standards will add about $11 per month to the payment for the average home, but save consumers $27 on monthly heating, cooling and lighting bills.
"Improving the energy efficiency of buildings in which we will live and work will save Californians energy for decades," Douglas said. "These standards will help save consumers money on their utility bills, keep them comfortable in their homes, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions through better, more-efficient buildings."
The CEC also projected that, within the first year of implementation, the standards will add up to 3,500 new building industry jobs.
Unlike other hot-button energy issues, the standards voted on Thursday had a relatively smooth ride to approval.
CEC commissioners attributed that to many months of meetings with builders, installers, contractors, energy experts, environmental groups, utilities and others. Over time, various parties came to a consensus on what the standards should be, and that was reflected in some of the post-approval comments.
"With the residential construction industry still struggling to emerge from the worst economic downturn in 60 years, the California Building Industry Association supports the standards to balance the state's objectives of achieving greater levels of energy efficiency with the need for housing affordability," said Layne Marceau, Northern California division president for Shea Homes and chairman of the CBIA Governmental Affairs Committee.
Noah Horowitz, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the new standards are "wildly cost-effective and will ensure every new building constructed in the state is an energy-efficient one."
Steve Malnight, vice president of Customer Energy Solutions for Pacific Gas and Electric Co., said, "PG&E is a strong supporter of codes and standards as a vital tool in helping California achieve its clean energy goals."
The standards did not sail through unopposed, however.
Critics included the Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association and the American Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute. Both expressed concern that the standards would raise construction costs.
Even with approval, builders and contractors have extensive work to do to gear up for the Jan. 1, 2014, deadline.
Ken Nittler, a licensed mechanical engineer and an expert on building energy codes, recently told a regional gathering of the American Architectural Manufacturers Association that the CEC standards are "very serious and ambitious goals and will require substantial improvements in efficiency."