As technology moves ahead with new sustainable construction techniques, so does the California building code, but pushing to be in the forefront is the town government of Portola Valley.
The Town Council will be considering amendments to its green-building ordinance that go beyond the state code in requiring new homes and remodels of more than 400 square feet to anticipate the use of solar panels, electric vehicles, recycled (grey) water and rainwater.
As is the case with many state regulations, local regulations must at least meet state standards and can exceed them. With this ordinance, Portola Valley would escalate several requirements.
Reserving space for solar panels is an example. Current California Energy Commission standards require new single-family homes to reserve at least 250 square feet, whether on a roof or elsewhere, for solar panels. Town Hall is proposing to boost that minimum to 500 square feet, according to a staff report by Brandi de Garmeaux, the town's sustainability manager.
Anticipating the widespread use of solar energy, the state requires homes in subdivisions of 10 or more to have a built-in framework for the plumbing and electrical components needed for a solar energy installation. Portola Valley would extend that requirement to all new single-family homes and larger additions.
With electric vehicles growing in popularity and availability, the town would go beyond the state standard for vehicle recharging. Where the state requires the ability to deliver a minimum charge of 40 amperes, the town would boost that to 50 amperes, with wiring that could handle 100 amperes.
Electrical vehicle manufacturer Tesla Motors Inc. recommended 50 amperes to accommodate electric vehicles and batteries as they evolve and vehicle ranges increase, Ms. de Garmeaux told the council recently. "We have a lot of Teslas here and we wanted folks to be able to easily plug those in," she said. "This basically will accommodate a charging station that will charge two Teslas."
The proposed ordinance would allow the planning director to make exceptions if applicants can prove hardship or infeasibility, Ms. de Garmeaux told the council recently.
The amendments have been approved by the town's Water Conservation Committee, the Architectural and Site Control Commission and the Planning Commission. If and when the council approves them, they will go to the California Energy Commission for a 60-day public comment period, followed by review and possible approval, Ms. de Garmeaux said.
At a recent meeting, the council sounded in general agreement with the amendments but, at the instigation of Mayor Maryann Derwin, sent the ordinance back to add language that could exempt second units from the requirements. (A state law is also addressing this issue, Ms. Derwin said in an email.)
"I think if people are trying to build housing for people so that they aren't moving out of the county or living in their cars, perhaps we need to lighten up a bit," Ms. Derwin said. "I speak from experience. I'm trying to do one (a second unit) right now."
While she is considering adding infrastructure for solar panels and grey water in her second unit, Ms. Derwin noted that other homeowners may have a different take.
Looking ahead on water conservation, the amended ordinance would require builders to install an interior piping system to allow recycling of water from sinks, showers, baths, and clothes washing machines. The system would include a power supply and a requirement to identify a location for before-treatment and after-treatment storage tanks needed so the water could be used above ground.
A grey water system is "very difficult to retrofit, but very easy to include in the original design and build," Ms. de Garmeaux said.
For residents wanting lawns, the town would require a system for catching rainwater for irrigation or using recycled water. For lawns of up to 500 square feet, a rainwater system would have to provide 50 percent of the lawn's yearly watering needs. For larger lawns, that requirement rises to 100 percent for the turf beyond 500 square feet.