Since 1974, the California Energy Commission has led the world with its building-efficiency standards, also known as Title 24, Part 6. The requirements, mandates and executive orders laid out in Title 24 influence energy policy worldwide by driving manufacturers of HVAC and lighting equipment to comply with California’s strict efficiency requirements.

The “California effect” is well-documented within the design and construction industries. That is, to supply Title 24-compliant products and be competitive within California’s $2.6 trillion economy, manufacturers will change the design of all their products.

It does not make fiscal sense to have one product for California and one product for the other 49 states. The policies put forth by the state of California often influence the energy-efficiency standards around the world.

With recent state mandates, engineering and technological advancements, and “internet of things” connectivity, the building design and construction industries have changed more in the last five years than the past 35 years. California has been vocal about this advancing trend through 2030.

Since the 2013 Building Energy Efficiency Standards for Residential and Nonresidential Buildings was enacted, the building design and construction community has struggled with balancing the economics of energy-efficiency design while minimizing the added costs to owners and developers.

Buildings that, pre-2013, would pass energy compliance with ease now require a variety of energy-saving strategies to be incorporated into the HVAC and lighting design. Many of these strategies make good practical sense, such as robust economizers that allow air-conditioning units to provide “free” cooling to a building when it is cool outside or occupancy sensors for mechanical, electrical and plumbing equipment.

Although these strategies do have associated first costs, the payback is typically reasonable, especially with rising electricity prices. Other requirements that look to be expanded upon in future updates to Title 24 include building commissioning, carbon dioxide monitoring in buildings, HVAC and lighting building automation systems and 25-plus percent higher-efficiency HVAC equipment through utilizing a variety of technologies, including heat recovery, thermal energy storage and indirect evaporative cooling, just to name a few.

The most significant technological advancement in the HVAC industry over the past decade has been the introduction of variable refrigerant flow heat pump technology to western North America.

Although established in Asian and European markets for nearly 40 years, VRF is relatively new stateside. The technology allows occupants to heat and cool different zones in the building simultaneously from one single air-cooled system. By using variable frequency drives on fans and compressors, combined with the ability to transfer heat around a building from where you do not want it (think south-facing conference room) to where you do want it (think north-facing enclosed office), VRF systems can save building owners upward of 30 percent on utility bills while maintaining a more comfortable environment when compared to other traditional constant-speed packaged equipment.

As the VRF technology becomes more accepted throughout the industry and more competitors enter the manufacturing market, installation and equipment costs will continue to decline.

Just like in every other technological aspect of our society, the controls systems in buildings today are more advanced than ever. And like all other technology in the world today, the costs for interconnected HVAC, lighting and security systems have decreased significantly while expanding user capabilities.

Companies many of you are familiar with, such as Johnson Controls, Honeywell and Siemens, have off-the-shelf products that any licensed contractor can purchase and do not require long-term service agreements with any particular dealer/contractor. With minimal coordination between design trades, building systems can be connected for the owner’s ultimate convenience.

Nowadays, many service calls can even be performed via building automation systems, potentially saving the owner thousands of dollars on a technician’s trips to site. With the continued advancement and use of wireless controls systems, costs of advanced controls systems will also continue to decline over time.

The ultimate goal of Title 24 is to achieve net-zero energy for new commercial construction by 2030. Although this ambitious plan will pose significant challenges to owners, developers and building design professionals, the ultimate goal is one that results in long-term cost savings for the building owner, which will ultimately impact the greater economy.

These impacts, both with costs and energy, will be noticed by the rest of the world. If proven successful, other states and beyond will follow California’s lead in efficiency, occupant well-being and cost-savings measures.

The plans for net-zero energy for residential construction by 2020 has already been approved by the California Energy Commission and is on the books for the 2019 updates to Title 24.

Ian Journey is a local professional mechanical engineer with 3C Engineering Inc. in Bakersfield. His areas of specialty include HVAC and plumbing consulting, energy analysis, building commissioning and low-voltage controls systems.

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