Reach Codes

Reach Codes


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Southern California Edison is committed to carbon neutrality by 2045. As outlined in our decarbonization roadmap Pathway 2045, building codes and standards play a key role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).

Local governments are key partners in reducing emissions, leading the way by recognizing climate change impacts and passing new building code ordinances, such as reach codes.

The information below is provided for local government leaders interested in developing reach codes and related electrification policies.

What is a Reach Code?

A reach code is a local building energy code that goes beyond or “reaches” past the state minimum requirements for energy use or GHG emissions in building design and construction, usually to address issues such as GHG emissions targets, energy efficiency, air quality, and public health and safety concerns (inside and outside of buildings). Reach codes are not limited to the buildings sector—they may also involve transportation technologies such as an electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in residential and commercial buildings.

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Incentives now make these electric heat pump water heaters cost-competitive with natural gas models.

Benefits of Reach Codes

Reach codes provide an impressive array of environmental, economic, and health benefits:

  • Lower GHG Emissions and Climate Impact
  • Progress toward Climate Action Plan Goals
  • Improved Public Health
  • Cleaner Air
  • Better Preparation for Local Businesses and Citizens to Meet New State Standards
  • More Affordable Buildings
  • Safer and More Comfortable Buildings
  • Increased Resiliency
  • Lower Utility Bills
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Templates to Help Cities Design Reach Codes – and Staff Reports

For municipal staff members to use in framing reach codes: https://localenergycodes.com/.

Below are Reach Code ordinances and staff reports from jurisdictions that recently passed reach codes in the region. More reach codes have been passed in Northern California, but activity is picking up in Southern California. 

 

Statewide Lists of Recent Reach Codes

These groups track recently passed reach codes in California and provide useful information to other jurisdictions that are researching their reach code options. 

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Reach Code Myths versus Facts

The topic of reach codes can be complex when you consider all the possible measures and outcomes – and the sometimes-conflicting information promoted by proponents and opponents. Here are some common myths and the corresponding facts that dispel them.

Fact: Almost all reach codes are for new construction and do not affect existing buildings in any way. Further, a new reach code for existing buildings would not affect gas stoves; a code would require electric stoves only if the gas stove is replaced during a major retrofit that requires a building permit. 

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Fact: They are not. A reach code may be considered and passed in two City Council readings within the span of two or three months. (Santa Barbara did this in 2021.) A reach code does not require a rigid state-approval process. In fact, the California Energy Commission (CEC) reviews reach code applications only for minimum requirements at monthly business meetings. Furthermore, some reach codes don’t need any CEC approval. Local jurisdictions that pass Reach Codes based on health and safety concerns, not energy-related reasons, go through only the simple filing process with the Building Standards Commission. 

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Fact: A reach code is flexible—one size does not fit all. While sample ordinance language is available to jurisdictions as a starting point, every reach code can be unique and tailored to a jurisdiction’s particular needs. For example, exemptions can be included for specific types of accessory dwelling units, existing commercial kitchens, and areas where solar access is limited. Cities and counties can tailor a reach code to match their exact needs. 

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Fact: Reach Codes that modify the energy code must be submitted to the CEC, which requires proof that the reach codes are cost-effective (i.e., less expensive) for customers. To aid this process, the CEC funds the Statewide Reach Codes Program to prepare cost-effectiveness reports that identify cost-effective reach code measures for every climate zone in California. Jurisdictions can simply pick from a list of recommended measures for their climate zone and submit the cost-effectiveness report to the CEC with their ordinances.  

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Fact: With proper planning, the electric grid can handle building and transportation electrification without reducing grid reliability. The California Public Utilities Commission, the California Independent System Operator and the state’s electric utilities are continually implementing strategies to avoid outages and shutoffs, such as improved electric system planning, installing additional utility-scale renewable generation and energy storage, and grid hardening upgrades in fire-prone areas. SCE is investing approximately $5 billion per year in upgrades to increase grid capacity, improve reliability and harden the grid against extreme weather events, including wildfires. Reach codes typically focus on new construction. Per the state building code, all new residential construction is required to have rooftop solar. Starting in 2023, all new residential construction will also be required to have space and electrical infrastructure for future energy (usually battery) storage. Many non-residential building types will be required to have both solar and batteries installed. These customer-owned resources provide an additional layer of resiliency, on top of the utility-scale enhancements already underway. 

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Fact: The energy code is updated every three years and yields substantial environmental benefits each time. However, there are always additional cost-effective measures that a jurisdiction can implement to gain further benefits. For instance, electrification of space heating, water heating, or both are proven to yield substantial greenhouse gas emission savings while being cost-effective and maintaining equal performance. Reach codes are worthwhile, and they are an integral part of the code update process because they help accelerate the adoption of cost-effective measures statewide and provide precedent for subsequent code cycles. 

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Fact: Serving the electrical needs of an all-electric building is not a significant concern compared to a mixed-fuel building. We design the electric grid to accommodate peak demand, which in most areas is driven by air conditioning load. Case studies have shown the peak demand from all-electric neighborhoods is not significantly higher than the peak demand from mixed-fuel neighborhoods. This is because modern electric technologies are very efficient and often are demand response capable, meaning they can avoid or minimize usage during on-peak hours when stress on the grid is greatest. All of this translates into all-electric homes having a “flatter” electricity demand profile. So, while they consume more electricity overall, all-electric homes place that demand on the grid more evenly throughout the day, which means we don’t need significant upgrades to the grid specifically for all-electric buildings.

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There are numerous resources available to local governments interested in pursuing reach codes.

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All-electric, energy-efficient induction stoves are faster, safer, and healthier to use because they eliminate harmful emissions and open flames while keeping kitchens cool. 

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https://localenergycodes.com/content/reach-codes-newcomers-webinar-series-session-1

This reach code development timeline can help shape expectations about the reach code process.

Source: Statewide Reach Codes Program, Reach Codes Newcomers Webinar #1

Estimated Costs Associated with a Reach Code

Southern California Edison provides direct technical assistance to local governments during the reach code process to help defray labor and other typical costs. The following table assembled with local governments which successfully passed a reach code ordinance shows some of the typical costs associated with pursuing a reach code.

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A heat pump efficiently heats AND cools a home all in one.

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Past Events & More Resources

The shortlist below of past reach code events for local jurisdictions includes links to the slide decks and provides a good introduction to the topic. For upcoming events by the Statewide Reach Codes Program, please see https://localenergycodes.com/content/events.

  • Reach Codes for All-Electric Buildings” slide deck presented by Jay Madden, PE, SCE, Energy Codes & Standards during the County Building Officials Association of California (CBOAC) Annual Conference & Business Meeting in April 2022  
  • Reach Codes Newcomers Webinar (recordings and slide decks)

 

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