The Registry




Shedding Light on Title 24

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Designers, architects navigating state’s building energy efficiency standards.


By Nancy Amdur

Since the California Energy Commission updated building energy efficiency standards last year, architects and designers have been working to incorporate energy-saving solutions into clients’ designs.

For office tenants, designers are being even more mindful about reconfiguring space when making improvements as the new energy standards make some changes more costly.

“The beneficiary of this is the planet and energy costs,” said Melissa Pesci, an associate principal in the San Francisco office of HGA Architects and Engineers, but meeting the standards can be pricey, she added.

The energy commission’s 2013 building energy efficiency standards, also known as Title 24, went into effect in July 2014. The commission expects the standards will save California residents $1.6 billion in energy costs over the next 30 years.

Building energy standards, first adopted in 1978, will get increasingly stringent because they are updated approximately every three years. They aim to lower energy costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions while ensuring that builders use the most energy-efficient technologies and construction, according to the commission. Local city and county enforcement agencies verify compliance with the code.

The standards impact new construction along with alterations and additions in existing buildings.

“One of the toughest things for us to manage in this code is to fully understand exactly what trips it,” said Mike Ogrinc, a job captain and designer at San Francisco-based Fennie+Mehl Architects. For example, redoing one section of an office for a tenant improvement project can quickly turn into a bigger project, “once you hit a certain threshold [of changes],” he added. “It gets tricky.”

“That concept of just doing some minor renovation work on the cheap is becoming less of a reality in California,” said Jenna Ruth, a senior designer and senior associate at Fennie+Mehl.

The standards can “limit the flexibility of the space,” Pesci said, as “clients are able to afford less build-out.” However, sometimes office tenants can negotiate splitting Title 24 upgrade costs with the landlord before signing a lease, she added.

Working with a project’s team—including architects and contractors—and forming a plan and budget for updating a space early in the process can help projects run smoothly, Ruth said.

Lighting and windows in nonresidential buildings are two areas where significant changes were made to Title 24.

“The changes in the lighting is what we have been noticing as the largest expense,” Pesci said, “because [it impacts] the actual light fixtures themselves, but it’s also the way they are controlled, and that’s what the biggest change to the code was.”

The energy commission standards call for multilevel lighting controls and sensors to be inserted. This can affect electrical panels, and “in some cases, we need to add a panel, which is expensive,” Pesci said.

Title 24 “challenges designers to be more creative and innovative to meet the code requirements,” added Tao Ham, senior lighting designer at HGA.

Title 24 standards also call for high-performance windows that reduce heating and cooling loads in buildings year-round, according to the energy commission.

Milpitas-based View Dynamic Glass is manufacturing glass that can help a space meet energy efficiency standards. A small electrical charge moves across the company’s “dynamic glass” coating and as sunlight changes throughout the day, it turns the glass from clear to tinted, said Brandon Tinianov, the senior director of business development at View. The windows maximize natural light and reduce heat and glare.

Title 24 standards are moving California toward its goal of having all new commercial buildings be zero net energy by 2030. Zero net energy, or ZNE, means a building would produce as much energy as it consumes.

View’s dynamic glass was included in a building renovation at 415 Mathilda Ave. in Sunnyvale, which was a project sponsored by the energy commission “to show the roadmap for Title 24 going into a net-zero future,” Tinianov said.

Overall, the energy efficiency standards will make a positive impact on design as well as the environment, industry experts said.

“I feel good about designing high-quality lighting systems with less energy,” Ham said.

“We’ll all find that you can make good designs that are cost effective long term,” Tinianov said.

California may be just one of the first states to incorporate stricter energy efficiency standards, architects and designers said.

“I think it’s going to be a classic case of the step in California eventually rippling across the country and driving standards [nationwide],” Ogrinc said.

Image courtesy of HGA Architects and Engineers