How Architects Are Affected by California’s 2016 Energy Code

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“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” Socrates

The newest updates to the energy efficiency standards enacted by the California Energy Commission (CEC), also known as the 2016 Standards, took effect on January 1, 2017, bringing the state one step closer to its ultimate goal of zero net energy use or all new residential buildings by 2020, and all new commercial buildings by 2030.

This code cycle is the single biggest change to energy efficiency in the building industry that we’ve ever seen. It will require a fundamental change to the way architects design a structure and its construction.

E3CA’s team of energy efficiency experts has decades’ worth of combined experience interpreting energy codes and regulations, allowing us to help our clients achieve significant energy savings while navigating and complying with California’s changing standards.

A full understanding of the code and how it impacts the design and the work flow in the field will allow architects and developers across California to avoid the most common pitfalls and time-sinks.

What are the major changes?

The 2016 Energy Code focuses on three key areas: updating residential requirements to move closer to California’s net zero energy goals, updating non-residential and high-rise residential requirements, and improving the clarity and consistency of existing regulations. 

Major improvements in the updated Energy Code include:


New and altered homes are to become more efficient in several ways to create energy and environmental savings for Californians. Building systems that include updates are:

  • High performance attics: extra insulation at the roof deck in addition to ceiling insulation to reduce the attic temperature by 35 degrees or more during hot summer days. 
  • High performance walls: the new regulations require builders to use high-performance wall materials, featuring additional insulation to keep heat out during the summer and keep heat inside the home in the winter. 
  • Improved water heating system: installation of tankless water heating technology and improvement of water distribution systems that reduce energy usage by about 35 percent. 
  • High efficacy lighting:installation of highly efficient fixtures alongside controls that can adjust output to cut energy usage on lighting in half.  
  • Credit for photovoltaic systems: Builders could get credit towards meeting the code’s energy savings targets for installing a solar PV system. 



Changes to the nonresidential requirements largely follow the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) national standards, and include energy conservation measures related to the following building systems:

  • Envelope: Wall insulation levels have been changed for metal framed and metal demising. All other mandatory insulation levels are unchanged. 
  • Outdoor lighting: The general power allowance for outdoor lighting has been lowered to include newer, more efficient fixtures. 
  • Elevators: require lights and fans to shut off when an elevator is empty. 
  • Escalators and moving walkways: require escalators and moving walkways in transit areas to run at a lower, less energy-consuming speed when not in use. 
  • Doors and windows interlocks: require lockout sensors that turn off cooling and heating systems if a door or window is left open for more than five minutes.

Check out this infographic put together by the California Energy Commission to illustrate the new standards.

Closing words

Over the past decades, building code updates have left architects and builders across California with new challenges and ever-stricter guidelines as they design and build homes that meet the state’s rigorous energy standards.

E3CA, Inc. is ready to help architects across California to understand and meet the challenges of complying with the 2016 Energy Code as well as all Green Building programs.



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