Dazed & Confused

Inflamed Eichler owners and remodeling pros alike facing a quagmire over California’s Title 24 building regulations
Dazed and Confused
Dazed and Confused
California's Title 24 restrictions continue to impact Eichler and other MCM owners' ability to preserve the original look of their homes. In coming years, the situation is expected to get worse.
Dazed and Confused

Title 24 California Energy Code restrictions on home remodels have Bay Area cities sputtering, contractors fuming, and homeowners running on empty—both in patience and in their pocketbooks.

"The whole topic of Title 24 restrictions—it's pretty crazy," says San Francisco architect John Klopf of Klopf Architecture. "I'm not sure if any homeowners, and even some contractors, are up to date with the most recent requirements."

California's energy efficiency standards for buildings, designed to reduce wasteful consumption of energy, have become a quagmire of confusing communications and inconsistent expectations. The standards adopted into the California Code of Regulations (Title 24, Part 6) apply to newly constructed buildings and additions along with alterations to existing buildings.

Under the California Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan, all new residential construction must be net zero energy by 2020. What that means is that all new homes built after 2020 will need to produce more energy than they consume.

While existing Eichlers and other mid-century modern homes don't fall under the net zero guidelines, updates to current code are pushing them closer to that reality, as restrictions continue to impact MCM owners' ability to preserve the original look of their homes.

Eichler-preferred aluminum-framed windows and sliding-glass doors are especially hard-hit by Title 24's demands.

"I've been doing this for almost 40 years, [providing] windows and sliders to Eichler owners who want to upgrade their old single panes without changing the look," says Dave Stellman, owner of Palo Alto Glass. "However, over the past few years…we've had to explain the new [Title 24] rules to homeowners…and we've determined that we can't keep beating our heads against the wall trying to install slim aluminum windows in Eichlers."

Why is that? Because these days, California building codes are much more complex than they used to be. Today's remodels must meet Title 24 compliance when the changes impact the exterior building envelope—including walls, windows and doors, and roofs—or when they affect mechanical systems like heating, air conditioning, and ventilation (HVAC), in situations such as replacing ductwork or upgrading the water heater.

Interior and exterior lighting projects can also be affected, depending on the project, such as a permitted kitchen remodel in which lighting is getting changed out.

Repairs of pre-existing components or systems, such as repairing a broken pane of glass or replacing the heating element of a water heater, do not have to follow Title 24 requirements.

Two compliance methods

There are two methods used to substantiate that the improvements made comply to today's standards: prescriptive and performance. The prescriptive method requires mandatory minimums for changes, such as R-values in insulation, but not all remodels will qualify for that method. (Find out if your project qualifies, in chapter nine of the 2016 Residential Compliance Manual: Additions, Alterations and Repairs.)

Home projects that don't fall under the prescriptive method need to follow the performance method, which is usually calculated by architects and remodelers through modeling software approved by the California Energy Commission. There are two ways to analyze the building using this method: compliance with third-party verification of all existing conditions altered, or compliance without third-party verification.

What's a homeowner to do? One option is to avoid doing remodels that you don't have to do. Another option is for homeowners to research the Title 24 compliance measures themselves and hope that their home-improvement changes keep up with all Title 24 details and changes over time.