Palo Alto adopts new 'green building' rules

Council passes law to require new developments to accommodate solar panels, greywater irrigation

With Earth Day just around the corner, Palo Alto on Monday ramped up its building code to require all new buildings to accommodate solar panels and irrigation systems that rely on laundry water.

The requirements were part of a broader package of building-code revisions that the City Council made near the conclusion of a long meeting that was almost exclusively dedicated to the city's environmental accomplishments, endeavors and aspirations. The city is in the midst of drafting its first Sustainability/Climate Action Plan that will lay out goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and options for meeting these goals. The goals are expected to exceed the state ambition of reducing emissions by 80 percent by 2050, with 1990 as the baseline for measurement.

The changes that the council approved to the building code Monday likewise aims to exceed state targets for green construction. The new locally adopted Energy Code ordinance include a requirement called the "energy reach code," which would exceed the state's energy-savings requirements by 15 percent for new single-family, multi-family and commercial projects.

In addition, all new single-family residences will have to dedicate 500 square feet on their roof surfaces to allow for future solar panels. Exceptions will be made in cases where the requirement could interfere with trees.

All new construction projects would also have to accommodate later installation of "laundry-to-landscape ready" irrigation systems by including three-way diverter valves in the drain line of laundry fixtures.

Peter Pirnejad, the city's director of development services, said the city's analysis indicated that installing these improvements would prove cost effective once the cost of the installation is amortized over 30 years. For a 2,400-square-foot home, the new requirements would add about $2,000 to the construction bill, staff estimated.

The council unanimously approved the new requirement, with members generally limiting their comments to technical questions about the ordinance details. The ordinance was also vetted last month by the council's Policy and Services Committee, which enthusiastically supported the staff proposal.

Councilman Pat Burt, who chairs the committee, recalled California's history of progressive building practices that have since been "adopted nationally and have now been recognized to have been very cost effective.

"This is going down the same path," Burt said. "We looked at what things we can do sooner that would not nave significant negative impacts. ... We felt it was a good measure and it would be sound practice for the long term."

The revisions aim to build on the city's already ambitious "green building" efforts, which have routinely exceeded state requirements, as contained in the California Building Standards Code. A report from Development Services Department notes that the state adopts a new code every three years. Palo Alto's local code is "more aggressive" than these requirements, according to the report, which also cites the city's "history of leadership in the area of sustainability, energy efficiency and green building."

While the new changes have yet to kick in, the city is already looking ahead to the next round of revisions to its Green Building code. The Policy and Services Committee last month directed staff to return with an ordinance for "zero net energy" projects and to study the possibility of mandating the installation of solar panels. These revisions will be brought forward during the next cycle of code revisions.

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18 people like this
Posted by enough!
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 21, 2015 at 10:44 am

Green building rules?


Odd, since the City doesn't care about the thousands of gallons of water that's been and is being, spewed into the City sewer system just by ONE McMansion site...ONE. That's water that should have been redirected into a storage container. I question that it's "ground water" anyway....because we haven't had enough rain to warrant four days of "draining" into a sewer.

15 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 21, 2015 at 10:48 am

Feh. Enough.

So the city just pushed the cost of housing higher while serving its pr "aspirations" while still having a ridiculously long wait time for repairs that save water.

Like this comment
Posted by Judith
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 21, 2015 at 10:51 am

The new green building ordinance has lots of stuff about saving water. Also, the city has 2 reclaimed water projects under consideration, as well as looking at water use on ornamental grass, such as the lawns at Rinconada Library.

There are also rules about dewatering, although note many people re doing it right now. The permits say there are 2 sites that are dewatering, but my guess is more are doing it w/o permits. Public Works is using the water from dewatering for various city uses, and private contractors can, too.

BTW - of course its groundwater! Where else would it be coming from? That's where basements go - into the ground.

6 people like this
Posted by Sally-Ann Rudd
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 21, 2015 at 10:54 am

Sally-Ann Rudd is a registered user.

Yes! They should have these same requirements for all commercial buildings too.

2 people like this
Posted by Jane
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 21, 2015 at 11:04 am

Palo Alto loves to think of itself as progressive but Berkeley was permitting diversion of gray water about ten years ago. It has taken years for Palo Alto to change the code and permit this.

2 people like this
Posted by SolarizeThemAll
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 21, 2015 at 11:10 am

"In addition, all new single-family residences will have to dedicate 500 square feet on their roof surfaces to allow for future solar panels. Exceptions will be made in cases where the requirement could interfere with trees."

1. For all re-roofing projects (new T&G, addition of foam, etc.), why not also include the requirement?
2. Why not actually require the solar panel installation itself?
3. And include commercial buildings as well.
No exclusions!

There should be solar panels on every roof that has appropriate daylight.

8 people like this
Posted by Midtown Mama
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2015 at 11:59 am

We have had solar panels since the 1980's. The city wouldn't allow us to use greywater, which we also wanted to do. Now we get "nasty grams" in our utility bill when we water our trees. We've stopped planting a vegetable garden, and haven't had a lawn since the 1980's. We had a voluntary "water audit" by the City, and they couldn't come up with a single idea that we weren't already doing.

7 people like this
Posted by NPDchem
a resident of Stanford
on Apr 21, 2015 at 12:53 pm

NPDchem is a registered user.

California is slowly creating a population that will be homogenous, based on financial acumen, in particular areas of the state. Who is going to support the town? Painters.Carpetlayers.Mechanics.Carpenters.

Not to mention the cost of Sola Panels in the state is going up (not down)...5.57 kWh. Never give power to those who are more interested in IMAGE than in accomplishment and customer service. Solar technology is NOT ready for prime time. The carbon footprint is directly proportional to the % efficiency of solar panels....base technology=14-16% efficiency...Ha,...what a joke

6 people like this
Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 21, 2015 at 1:32 pm

Solarize them All- [Portion removed.] You forget a number of years ago during the El Nino there were vicious storms with 50+ mph winds. When one of those happens in the future there will be solar panels all over Palo Alto's streets and sidewalks. The solar array makes a good airfoil, like an airplane wing. With time their attach points will also cause roof leaks or movement of roof tile. I don't know how they are attached to roofing tile, but probably must be attached to the plywood bases below it causing non uniform distribution of the ceramic tiles on the roof and a path for rainwater to leak through the roof. Crazy- just like the windmills that shred migratory birds that fly along their natural migration paths.
Re-roofing- has a base plywood roof under the roofing tiles which might have to be changed to thicker plywood base, which may make the roof redo even more costly. Solar Cell installation is enormously expensive and hideous to look at. PA neighborhoods will lose property values from having neighbors with LEGO roof attachments.

As you evidently don't know, solar panel efficiency drops like a rock when they get dirty. [Portion removed.] That's why solar arrays work so well in space and not on earth due to contamination.

"1. For all re-roofing projects (new T&G, addition of foam, etc.), why not also include the requirement?
2. Why not actually require the solar panel installation itself?
3. And include commercial buildings as well.
No exclusions!
There should be solar panels on every roof that has appropriate daylight."

[Portion removed.]

This moronic idea will just cost builders and homeowners endless money and grief. Just what we would expect from the PA City Council, just as bad as Berkeley.

11 people like this
Posted by muttiallen
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 21, 2015 at 3:01 pm

muttiallen is a registered user.

Stop the basements! That's a really easy way to protect our water table. In our neighborhood in south Palo Alto the water table is less than 7 feet down. Down the block someone is starting to dig a basement, and they will pump for months. Their neighbors are already feeling changes in their yards and foundations from this. We have a well for yard irrigation (house was built in 1940's before there was any city water.) What will all this pumping do to that? Not to mention electricity waste from running pumps 24/7. And at the first earthquake the foundation cracks and the house has an indoor swimming pool instead.

7 people like this
Posted by JD
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 22, 2015 at 7:49 am

Water is such a precious resource that no green point offsets should be allowed to mitigate the removal of any significant amount of groundwater in any residential "green' building code.

This construction practice is desiccating the compressible clay soils that our homes are built upon.
It is putting our trees and landscaping into additional drought stress. A tree could succumb to a disease years after a basement is built because it was weakened during the intentional unnatural removal of moisture from the soil.

Furthermore, the amount of natural recharge (rain) is uncertain, so we should be put our efforts into preserving our groundwater. We may have to use this in the future. It could be tapped and used in an emergency (such as an earthquake) if our supply is lost. The water could be accessed in many area of our city, by placement of a simply drawdown well. The water could be used for drinking, or pressurized and used to extinguish fires.

Our shallow groundwater is likely very good in most areas of our city (outside the range of plumes) since the thick clays act as a filter to against contaminants.

Please reconsider this environmentally unfriendly building practice (dewatering = pumping groundwater).
This should have been prohibited in the Green Building Ordinance in 2008.

Seeing this amount of water (volume/rate) sets a bad example for our city.
It is causing citizens to question this practice, when they have been told by the governor and county to severely cut back their water use.

Web Link

4 people like this
Posted by wasted water
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 22, 2015 at 10:09 am

what about all the wasted water that is sprayed during the commercial developments. I always see construction sites being sprayed down with water. Maybe Palo Alto should slow down development in the name of the drought!

3 people like this
Posted by HUTCH 7.62
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 22, 2015 at 9:25 pm

These things are never really about saving the environment but rather a way for the government to control money and people

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

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