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.