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Energy Efficiency Standards Create Several Compliance Issues

California’s building energy efficiency standards continue to create concerns due to misinterpretations and coordination issues among electrical contractors, manufacturers and utility providers.

Contractors and manufacturers shifted their plans and product offerings to comply with the Title 24 energy code that went into effect in July 2014, but many say the changes sometimes resulted in system installations that didn’t work. Adjustments are still ongoing in some cases, especially when it comes to electrical power distribution.

The Building Energy Efficiency Standards were adopted by the California Energy Commission in 1976 and have been updated periodically with new energy and water efficiency requirements. Some of the most disruptive changes for energy and electrical systems went into effect with the 2014 update.

Fred Paul, an application engineer specialist who represents San Diego and Orange County at Eaton Electrical, a power management company, said the changes caught the industry off guard. The real issue, Paul said, is that the utility requirements in California do not match with the energy and electrical codes that manufacturers must use for compliance in California.

“We’re fighting a two-front battle here,” Paul said.

Expensive Changes

An example of this, Paul said, is in the language. Electric meters measure energy consumed by businesses or residences for utilities’ billing purposes. According to Paul, the new energy codes use the term “resettable” meters, meaning that the manufacturer would need to add a button or function that would allow tenants to reset the meter.

However, utilities don’t allow a meter to be reset. With a small change in the code language to state that tenants can have the ability to reset their meter, the cost deferential is substantial.

With Title 24, Paul said the code became too complicated; the intent was to make it easier and more cost effective for home owners and commercial operations to incorporate energy savings. Costs for electric panels, for example, are four times as much for materials alone in a basic commercial retail space as prior to the code update, Paul said.

The next update of Title 24 goes into effect Jan. 1, 2017, and will be a relief from some of those concerns with more realistic standards for power distribution, Paul said.

Shandon Harbour, formerly vice president of safety and education for the local chapter of the Associated Builders & Contractors, said initially electrical contractors had to learn each manufacturer’s proprietary system, resulting in challenges with functionality related to the new code. However, now most of the electrical contractors are up to speed.

Not Conforming to Code

“The contractors were required to meet the code, however the products were coming out with glitches and some products did not meet the new code,” she said. “I’ve had electrical contractors say they ripped out the whole system they installed because it didn’t work the way they (manufacturers) said it would work. But I haven’t heard those sorts of trials and tribulations happening for a while.”

An example of the standard changes were lighting fixtures had to dim to certain lumen levels.

Also included in these changes, electrical contractors needed to know how to install demand-response networked building systems in which the smart meter was connected to San Diego Gas & Electric so that they can load share during peak usage times.

Jack Yapp, senior vice president of the National Lighting Contractors

Association of America, said products and plans that did not meet the new standard were common for out-of-state contractors.

“We have found that some manufacturers interpret the energy code differently and therefore build products that may not comply,” he said.

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