California Building Code Changes Start Jan. 1, 2014

George L. Winship – December 31, 2013

Several changes in state building codes [took effect], Jan. 1, and could impact homeowners wanting to remodel or add a room onto the house, Anderson Building Official warned council members recently.

“Every three years, the State of California realigns its building codes to more closely align them with federal building standards,” Marty Mofield announced.

Among bigger changes taking effect immediately are those dealing with water-conserving plumbing fixtures that must be installed whenever a private residence is altered or improved, he said.

According to the California Building Code, the terms “alternations and improvements” mean “any construction to an existing structure which enhance or improve the structure,” states a legislative analysis conducted by the California Building Officials association.

Construction related to repairs or maintenance of an existing structure are not considered to be an alteration or improvement, the association report continued.

However, owners of single family residential property need to be aware that any project that alters the floor plan of a residence, either through a remodel or an addition, triggers a building permit and the new water efficiency codes, Mofield said.

For example, removing a wall, adding a bedroom, changing a floor plan, adding a bathroom or converting a half-bath to a full bath would all require the homeowner to replace all plumbing fixtures in a single-family home to the most water-efficient type, he explained.

Most plumbers and general contractors are already familiar with the state’s new building codes and water-efficient plumbing fixtures because any residence built after Jan. 1, 2011, has required them, Mofield said.

But many homeowners are unaware of the change since the requirements were included in Senate Bill 407, sponsored by California State Senator Alex Padilla, chair of the California State Senate Committee on Energy, Utilities and Communications, that was enacted through the Civil Code, Mofield said.

“Some of the agencies that watch for coming legislation did not see this one coming since these changes are usually done through the building codes. But you can be sure that the California Building Officials association is watching the civil code now for similar changes,” said Mofield, a member of the association.

For his part, Mofield said property owners will be notified of the requirements of the law during the plan review process before any work commences.

“They will then have the option to pull out of the project before any more money is spent or alter the project so it does not trigger the requirement,” he said.

“The other change that will have significance on residential homeowners are building codes requiring energy-efficient lighting,” Mofield added during an interview Thursday, Dec. 19.

“But those changes won’t be implemented until July 1, 2014,” the California Public Utility Commission decided Dec. 11, according to Mofield.

Building codes for commercial or public structures as well as government-owned single family residences are also being changed to more closely align state accessibility requirements with the federal Adults with Disabilities Act regulations, he explained.

Privately-owned residences need not comply with accessibility code requirements, he noted.

“Previously, it was difficult for designers, building officials and contractors to ensure that projects complied with both state and federal requirements, Mofield said.

“Local jurisdictions cannot enforce federal requirements,” he said.

One example Mofield cited as particularly troublesome involved rules for swimming pool lifts used in motels, rehabilitation hospitals and some spas.

“One of the jurisdictions required swimming pool lifts to have a foot rest. The other jurisdiction required an arm rest, but neither jurisdiction required both,” Mofield said.

One final change regarding expiration of building permits and applications will also take effect immediately, he said.

“Applications for which no permit is issued within 180 days (six months) from the date of application shall expire unless the applicant files for an extension in writing. The longest an application can be extended under the new rules is one year,” Mofield said.

Regarding building permits, “€very permit issued by the building official . . . shall expire by limitation and become null and void if the building or work authorized by such permit is not completed . . . within two years from the date of issuance,” he added.

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