California was the first state to mandate that builders equip new single-family homes with functioning solar systems as an electricity source. The mandate is now part of the state’s building code.
In 2018, the California Energy Commission (CEC) expanded the solar standard by mandating that new single-family homes built after Jan. 1, 2020, must be built with a rooftop solar system.
So, why are some new homes in the new northwest subdivisions closing escrow almost two years later without rooftop solar panels and a functioning solar system?
One could expect new homes completed in December 2021, almost 24 months after the mandate went into effect, would be equipped with rooftop solar panels and a fully functioning solar system. However, many are not.
A review of building files maintained by the City of Winters for two builders in the northwest subdivisions revealed a blitz of building applications submitted in December 2019, just days before the solar mandate law went into effect.
When builders apply for a building permit, they submit their project plan application to the building division where it then undergoes a plan check. For major projects like building a new home, the Winters Building Division estimates 15-30 days to complete the plan check.
Once the plan check is approved, a schedule of the project’s fees is calculated and presented to the applicant. Building permit applications are valid for 180 days and permits will issue when the fees are paid.
Home builders with applications from December 2019 are not required to comply with the solar mandate law if their 2019 applications did not expire before being issued a building permit. If fees were not paid by the end of the 180-day application phase, builders could request a 90-day extension and provide written justification for the extension request.
After 180 days and without issuance of a building permit or an extension, the application would be deemed “abandoned.” If abandoned, a builder would have to commence the application process again and be subject to the solar mandate.
Homes By Towne and Crowne Communities received 90-day extensions to their December 2019 applications and in some instances, multiple extensions were requested and granted. COVID-19 was given as justification for the extension requests.
As for homes in these developments recently sold or in various stages of construction, those with building applications submitted before Jan. 1, 2020, are not required to have builder installed rooftop solar systems while those filed after this date would.
Building permit files are a public record maintained at the Winters Building Division and are available for public inspection during business hours as authorized by the California Public Records Act.