News

Palo Alto set to make all new homes 'solar ready'

City considers building-code revisions aimed at promoting solar power, water efficiency

All new homes in Palo Alto will have to dedicate roof space to solar panels under a new law that the City Council is preparing to adopt later this month.

The roof requirement is one of several changes to the city's building code that the council will discuss on April 20. The council is also expected to approve new rules geared to promote irrigation efficiencies and a new energy "reach code" that would require buildings to exceed the minimum state energy requirements by 15 percent.

The new rules would build off an effort that the City Council first launched in 2008, when it adopted a Green Building code that requires new developments to adopt energy-efficiency measures that had been optional under the state ordinance.

In the years since, the council has made numerous changes to the building code, including recently adopted requirements that new buildings be wired for electric-vehicle charges.

Now, the focus is on sun and water. The new solar-panel requirement would require all new single-family residences to be "solar ready." In addition to dedicating 500 square feet of roof surface to potential installation of solar panels, the builder would have to provide conduit to support the future wiring for a solar system. Exceptions would be granted in cases where protective trees may be affected by the solar-ready zone, according to a new report from the Development Services Department.

On the water-efficiency front, the city is planning to adopt a rule requiring a "laundry-to-landscape ready" irrigation system. New construction projects would be required to install a three-way diverter valve in the drain line of all laundry fixtures, according to the staff report. The installation of such a valve would enable a homeowner to easily install an irrigation system utilizing grey water.

"It's a progressive ordinance," Development Services Director Peter Pirnejad told the council's Policy and Services Committee on March 20, when the committee discussed the proposed changes and gave them its blessing. "It is very forward facing. It's ahead of other cities and we don't shy away from that."

Pirnejad also noted that the state codes are also moving quickly toward requiring greater energy efficiency. The 2013 California Green Building Standards Code includes "various environmental-performance requirements related to site design, water efficiency, material conservation and air quality issues."

"We're ahead of the curve, but the curve is right behind us. And it's a tidal wave and we're just staying one step ahead of it," Pirnejad told the committee on March 20.

In its March review, the Policy and Services Committee proposed several minor changes, including an exemption for buildings in which strict compliance is infeasible or cost effective. This would allow staff to permit alternative measures to achieve performance targets. The committee also suggested revising the threshold for residential projects that would have to comply with the local "model water ordinance" (staff had proposed applying the ordinance to projects with at least 1,250 square feet of residential space; the committee recommended lowering it to 1,000 square feet).

The committee also requested more information about the costs of complying with the new laws and about the estimated greenhouse gas savings that the ordinance updates would achieve.

Councilman Pat Burt, who chairs the committee, noted during the conclusion of the committee's discussion that there has been a trend in recent years of seemingly ambitious goals becoming "the next generation of standard practices."

Burt predicted that the new laws will follow this pattern.

"Things that seem to be real challenges – we stretch ourselves and next thing we know they are readily accomplished," he said. "I look forward to this falling into this category."

Comments

5 people like this
Posted by Pragmatist
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 13, 2015 at 10:01 am

I think this is very progressive, and saves all of us money as the town doesn't have to build more centralized power production in the future.

I hope the building department will think some of the practicalities through, though, as so much of Palo Alto is built in a way that puts the houses on east-west facing axes rather than north-south. We felt really lucky to get a home with a roof facing south. Given how long we looked, I can say that a lot of Palo Alto lots are just not optimally oriented. And give how small the lots are and close to each other, the practicalities of this ordinance should be thought through so it works.


20 people like this
Posted by existing homes
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 13, 2015 at 10:40 am

I hope the CC would also consider subsidies for existing homeowners who would like to add solar panels, perhaps in exchange for returning some energy to the city.


3 people like this
Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 13, 2015 at 11:00 am

Hulkamania is a registered user.

Solar PV and water heating systems are great energy savers. It's a no brainer to add conduit for PV systems and two copper pipes for heating systems. It's just like putting in wire for phones and coax for TV while the walls are open.


20 people like this
Posted by save water
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 13, 2015 at 11:19 am

more importantly, we need to do everything we can to save water--- no lawns--a total waste of water--if you want green, put out "astro turf". and for the city planners--quit building high rise and high density housing and offices. that is another total waste of water. we all should be given rebates for saving water--that includes the city council as an incentive to quit their incessant desire to destroy not only this city but also drastically increase the drought issue.


31 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 13, 2015 at 11:42 am


Palo Alto already has the highest cost per square footage for construction in the Bay Area. Let's push it even higher.

I'm all for saving energy except when more conservation means higher energy prices because we didn't use enough.

When I got my new water heater and tried to apply for the rebate, I cannot begin to tell you what a hassle my plumber and I had to get back a lousy $35.


10 people like this
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 13, 2015 at 11:49 am

This ordinance, if adopted should include ALL buildings, including tenant improvements, hi rises, commercial remodels, restaurants, retail establishments, etc. If this is going to work ALL must participate. Let's not just put the individual homeowner thru the Hoops.


19 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 13, 2015 at 12:08 pm

An official recognition of solar energy should mean a recognition of right of way to the sun.

There is little point of supporting solar if we do not have the ability to feed energy back to the City to reduce our energy bill or detach from the grid. What incentive to install solar is there if we still have to pay for a grid connection we might not use, or are not able to reduce our energy bills by feeding surplus power into the city grid?

What about all the giant trees in Palo Alto and tall buildings on public and private land that eclipse the sun on people's properties. Monetize the sun as a commodity and people's property rights of access to the sun become very important.


15 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 13, 2015 at 12:10 pm

Online Name said
>> I'm all for saving energy except when more conservation means higher energy prices because we didn't use enough.

Here, here!!

That certainly tends to be the way Palo Alto works to generate the maximum ability to pick out pockets and control our lives.


17 people like this
Posted by PA native
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 13, 2015 at 12:31 pm

And how about limiting the amount of lawn allowed when landscaping new homes.


7 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 13, 2015 at 1:13 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

> "We're ahead of the curve, but the curve is right behind us. And it's a tidal wave and we're just staying one step ahead of it," Pirnejad told the committee on March 20.
> ... Burt... seemingly ambitious goals becoming "the next generation of standard practices."

So what these seems to be saying is that this proposed ordinance will likely soon be unnecessary (becoming standard practice), but City Hall wants to expend Staff and Council time to stroke the vanity of being (slightly) earlier adopters.

Of all the issues that need Staff and Council attention and that could have much bigger impacts on climate change, why is effort being diverted to "bragging rights" measures? (rhetorical question)


23 people like this
Posted by LaNell
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 13, 2015 at 1:44 pm

Approximately 10 years ago I had my house evaluated for solar power and was
told there were too many trees on my property to make it work. So, how do you deal with that?


16 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 13, 2015 at 2:19 pm

Various news stories have reported that the city is the biggest water waster. What's it doing about that?

If they want bragging rights to be oh-so-green -- now oh-so-brown -- maybe they should get crews out to fix the city irrigation and to respond to citizen complaints about leaks, non-working storm drains etc. sooner rather than later.

Maybe they can also concentrate on reducing the cost for trash removal to reflect our actual usage. And they can keep their compost pails and the rate increase that goes along with them.

Perhaps our new costly Chief Sustainability Officer could work with the repair people instead of the pr people? Just a thought.


24 people like this
Posted by jane
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 13, 2015 at 3:21 pm

Continually rising utility bills so the city can transfer $17 million a year to the general fund. But someone has to pay for all those high level hires at city hall.


6 people like this
Posted by Justin
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 13, 2015 at 5:11 pm

@Pragmatist

Actually, solar panels should be west-facing because that produces power closer to peak demand times. Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by Lindsay Joye
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 13, 2015 at 5:33 pm

The City of Palo Alto is partnering with neighboring communities throughout San Mateo County and local nonprofit, Vote Solar, to launch a discounted purchasing program for homeowners wanting to install solar.

This is a time-limited opportunity to save money with a pre-qualified solar contractor. Financing is available.

Sign up for a free workshop on April 25 to learn more at Web Link

Peninsula SunShares Program Flyer: Web Link

Peninsula SunShares Program Web site: Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 13, 2015 at 6:02 pm

It is a step in the right direction, but why don't they just require all new houses and commercial buildings to have solar panels (sized to generate the expected usage) and grey water systems for irrigation. The incremental cost is low compared to what it costs to build a house in Palo Alto and it moves us in the right direction.

We put a solar system on our roof and it is nice to see the meter spinning backwards!


6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 13, 2015 at 6:16 pm

All the new apartments being built in PA do not have individual water meters for each unit. As a result each tenant will not be subjected to the water restrictions that PA homeowners will have to obey.


4 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 13, 2015 at 9:41 pm

Why Solar Ready? Why not just require a certain percentage of roof are be covered PV panels per bedroom?

And what about Solar hot water? About one-quarter of the average house's power is spent keeping a tank of water hot. How about putting Solar Hot Water into the code?


13 people like this
Posted by PAOnline name
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 14, 2015 at 7:00 am

@Online Name

I'm having the same miserable experience in regard to a water barrel rebate. It's no surprise after looking into a turf removal rebate. It's all hassle and make-work for public sector employees.


8 people like this
Posted by Skeptical
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 14, 2015 at 9:11 am

Why does stuff like this have to be mandated?? Why stop at just requiring it to be solar ready? Just require them to have solar panels too!! I am by no means a libertarian, but I can see how places like Palo Alto might cause a person to become one. People are all too willing to require other people to do things that they themselves feel is the right thing to do-- even though they won't step up and do it themselves.


14 people like this
Posted by Dan
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 14, 2015 at 10:53 am

time to move... but CC probably will mandate that the moving truck has to run on recycled vegetable oil too.


14 people like this
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 14, 2015 at 12:56 pm

SteveU is a registered user.

Stupid move to make it apply to all houses.

Palo Alto has trees
Court cases have already established that Solar being panels shadowed does not trump your neighbors right to a Tree.

So a house buried in Trees still has to spend THOUSANDS of dollars for pre-wire/plumbing and Solar Friendly Roof design/structure that has
ZERO
chance of use. Stupid Plan.
The sight should be surveyed for POTENTIAL, then awarded green points, useful for reduced permit fees or to offset other code negatives.


36 people like this
Posted by ThinkTwice
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 14, 2015 at 1:35 pm

I have had solar heating in the past, and it ruined my roof, which I had just replaced immediately prior to installing solar panels. To add insult to injury, the reduction in utility costs was so small it would have taken thirty years to pay itself off!

If these new homes are built with some special roofing material that resists mold, mildew, rot, and moisture retention, which is what ruined a huge section of my roof under the solar panels, it still would not be worth the expense, since the expense would then be exponentially higher.

How about the city chipping in on the cost of solar installation and roof preparation before making this mandatory? As it is, it isn't cost effective for many, many yeas to have solar panels installed. Most people will not remain in a home long enough to ever see a payoff.


1 person likes this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 14, 2015 at 2:15 pm

SteveU ... Very interesting, though I thought that neighbors had to remove or trim trees that affected solar installations "down sun" from them ... what law are you quoting, I think it is wrong.


ThinkTwice - good points, just curious, but how did solar heating ruin your roof .. which I'm assuming was properly installed? Did it leak water or some fluid onto the new roof?


5 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 14, 2015 at 2:31 pm

SteveU, I think solar panel won over trees in the lawsuit.

But that is where the problem is. Roof solar panels are ugly and costly. It makes a neighborhood looks like a factory. To sacrifice trees for solar panels is a stupid idea.

The City Council is of course acting as smart as they were when they enthusiastically declared their support for High Speed Rail.


1 person likes this
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 14, 2015 at 3:00 pm

SteveU is a registered user.

CPanon
I believe the case was only won because the trees were planted AFTER the Solar was installed. It has been awhile, so I don't remember where the article was.
I had a quote a couple of years back for a 2.75KW array.
at current electric rates, I figured 33 years to break even (no adjustments for inflation, lost interest or monthly meter charge).
33 years exceeds the life of the panels b 8 or inverters by 18.

So you would need to replace a lot of these components even before cost break even. If PA doubled the current KWH charge, the break even is still 15+ years, but at least it is within the projected lifespan of the system


10 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 14, 2015 at 5:44 pm

m2grs is a registered user.

The City Council needs to realize that the main purpose for a residential house is to *live*, to enjoy the environment, to enhance the quality of life. It is not built for the production of energy! It is not a factory, not a power plant.

That's why green is good, and beautiful architecture is good.

Adding ordinances that will compromise architectural beauty, that will reduce the greenery, that will make the neighborhood look like little factories, is utterly stupid.


1 person likes this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 14, 2015 at 7:23 pm

m2grs is a registered user.

Let's say I buy three sheets of plywood and put it up on my roof, facing the street. There is no function for them. I just want to do it.

What happens next? Neighbors passing by will complaint, will call city, because it is an ugly eyesore. I will get citation and order to remove it.

How about I paint the plywood glossy black, mimicking solar panels? Or "Save the Earth! Go Green! I Love America!" kind of feel-good slogans on the plywood? Will neighbors find it acceptable? Probably not. It is still an eyesore.

So why are solar panels themselves OK? Just because it has the dubious function of producing small amount of "green energy"? What if the house owner abandons the panels? Just leave them on top of the roof, disconnected, because he has had enough troubles? Why are the panels still acceptable?

I would rather have a city ordinance that prohibits installation of solar panels that are viewable from streets.


8 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 14, 2015 at 7:29 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"How about putting Solar Hot Water into the code?"

Solar hot water is much more cost effective that solar photovoltaic.

I installed a solar hot water system in my previous Palo Alto home in 1980 and it worked like a charm including heating a hot tub.

When I moved I installed another solar hot water heater on my Atherton home - works perfectly and heats all of my hot water six months of the year. Temperatures coming down from the panel were 160 F today.

And the sq ft of panels required to provide enough hot water for the whole house is less than 10% of the panel size needed to provide for the electrical needs of the same house.


8 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2015 at 8:51 am

Is the City going to put a time limit on how long it takes to evaluate a Solar permit? If not, all new construction is going to be delayed by many months.


35 people like this
Posted by ThinkTwice
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2015 at 12:40 pm

CrescentParkAnon: what happened to my roof was that moisture from the rain had gotten under the panels and the barrier laid down for them, as well as condensation from dew fall. The panels prevented it from evaporating, and mold developed unseen, causing rot, then leakage of water into the attic. The repairs were VERY costly. We removed the panels because the whole deal wasn't worth it.

The roofers told us they had seen a lot of this in the last ten years with the newer panels, in particular the Chinese-made ones. You don't always know what you have until it fails, like Chinese drywall.

Since my debacle, a co- worker in Oakland Hills and friends in Los Altos Hills, as well as a relative in Mendocino have had similar issues with solar panels--all installed by different companies.


14 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 15, 2015 at 2:46 pm

ThinkTwice, thanks for sharing that, and sorry you had that experience and expense.
Thank you for making others aware of that possible problem. Not something many
including myself might have considered, most assuming a roof is a roof.



Like this comment
Posted by Lindsay Joye
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 16, 2015 at 3:06 pm

The 2013 State of California building code already requires a residential solar ready roof area and interconnection "pathways" (adopted 7/1/14).
Web Link

The City of Palo Alto is proposing an increase in the roof area to be considered as solar ready (500 SF vs. 250 SF) and including conduit from the roof to the main electric service panel. Web Link


1 person likes this
Posted by Dave Thompson
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 17, 2015 at 3:35 pm

I think making new roods solar ready is a great idea. It will help lower to electricity needed to run the city. That will help lower emissions released by those power plants. [Portion removed.]


20 people like this
Posted by What If?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2015 at 4:17 pm

What if PG&E follows through with their threats to stop buying back the excess power solar panels produce? It will then take even longer for solar panels to pay for themselves.

BTW, SoCal Edison has made the same threat.


15 people like this
Posted by Waterproof Roof
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 23, 2015 at 5:17 pm

If the homes and roofs are to be truly solar ready, so that only the panels need to be installed, won't that make the cost of the roof double-- or more--what the cost of a roof is now? How will that affect the price of the home, since roofing is already labor intensive as it is,

To avoid damage from moisture retention beneath the panels, what kind of waterproof barrier should be put down BEFORE the panels, to make the roof truly safe from rot, mold, etc?


5 people like this
Posted by pa_resident
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 24, 2015 at 12:37 pm

We installed a 10K+ solar hot water system on our new house to help meet Palo Alto Green requirements. It did not go well. We had leaks around the panels causing water dripping into our bedroom. The system was not effective most of the year because the collectors were too far from the water heater. When we went to claim the rebate it was terrible. The city contracted out rebate paperwork to some outfit called Center for sustainable energy (CSI) and it was worse than dealing with health insurance companies, they were looking for any reason to deny the rebate. We finally just gave up. I will never do this again, that is for sure. Solar PV went much better.


7 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 24, 2015 at 12:48 pm

The other day several of us were chatting about real estate, home improvements, etc.

A woman who lived in Mountain View described how shocked her contractor was when he went to apply for the building permits in Mountain View and it only cost him $450 and how prompt and courteous the inspectors were. He cheerfully handed her back the $3,000 check he'd requested because he was used to dealing with PA bureaucracy.

Another woman who builds $2M+ spec houses refuses to build in PA. When we were considering redoing our PA kitchen, our architect mentioned the "Annie Factor" -- a city worker -- and how one should never ever apply for permits when "Annie" is working!

There were other anecdotes but you get the point. Our city is badly broken yet we have the highest city salaries around. Shame on us for tolerating this.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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