Every few years the state of California adapts a new building code. The latest 2019 California building code- publishing dates rarely match current year- will go into effect on Jan. 1.

Usually, code changes are simple: a nail change here, a hold down required there. As would be expected, structural requirements are stiffer, no pun intended.

However, the latest code is requiring all new constructed residences to have solar panels. The devil is in the details here.

The basic principle of all building codes is not to make buildings indestructible, but to make them stand longer so that occupants can escape in a disaster.

There’s no such thing as a fireproof or earthquake proof buildings. Natural disasters happen and we are obligated to make buildings safe enough to escape. Public health and safety are the cornerstones of all building codes.

Most of the changes typically are tweaking the existing requirements or minor verbal additions.

Energy conservation is a big part of getting a building permit today, requiring extensive Title 24 Energy regulations and Cal Green reports to insure frugal resource usage. With energy conservation, one size doesn’t fit all, so multiple options are provided to allow choices for the best way to achieve the same goal.

The new solar requirement will subject all residents to have photovoltaic panels, depending upon the home square footage and the bedroom number. There are exceptions such as buildings with limited roof area, narrow envelopes, zero lot line areas or major obstructions of tall buildings or protected trees that block solar access.

The cost of solar panels and installation has dropped dramatically in recent years. Adding solar panels could cost as little as $9,500 for a small single-family home and in theory will save the owner $19,000 in energy over a 30-year period.

The minimal solar power produced will not be enough to take homes off the grid but will allow homeowners to minimize grid-dependence. It is expected in 2020 that 117,000 new homes and 48,000 multifamily apartments or condominiums will be built in California. Unfortunately, that’s almost 75,000 less than what meets our growing appetite.

The problem is: solar doesn’t work everywhere. Here the state is dabbling in politics rather than making our structures more energy efficient or safer.

Mandating that everyone have solar panels does not insure they will last or be properly maintained. New innovations will make this year’s panels obsolete in a short matter of time. In regularly overcast or cloudy communities such as in San Francisco, solar access is often inadequate.

I lived in Sausalito, where the daily fog ingulfed homes that rarely saw the sun. My present home surrounded by towering Redwoods is often without sufficient solar access including my south-facing office.

The State of California has a bad habit of making blanket laws with good intentions that may look good on the surface but when applied, have uneven results.

Make no mistake, I am a huge supporter of solar; when it is effective. I’m also a big fan of wind (no pun intended) although it also is climatologically challenged. This latest Code change should be called, “Keep Solar Installers Fat and Rich.”

Keep politics in Sacramento, not in the building code.

Most-read Napa County business stories of 2019

These 10 Napa County business stories garnered the most page views on the Napa Valley Register website and were most popular with our online readers in 2019.

Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Chris D. Craiker, AIA/NCARB, is a Napa architect with Craiker Architects & Planners. He has been designing sustainable buildings for more than 40 years.