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Title 24: What California Homeowners Need to Know

California's updated Building Energy Efficiency Standards took effect in July, making residential spaces 25% more efficient than the previous 2008 regulations. A crucial component of these standards are the lighting codes covered under Title 24. To explain how homeowners are affected and strategies for complying with existing and new regulations, we consulted with California lighting specialists.

Keep in mind that the regulations apply only to new construction or remodels, points out Terry Ohm of Ohm Lighting in San Francisco. And although Title 24 affects several areas of the home, the kitchen is most impacted as it alone must meet specific wattage requirements.

TECH Lighting Knox Line Voltage Linear Suspension Light
Knox Line Voltage Linear Suspension Light from TECH Lighting

According to Title 24, at least 50% of the wattage in the kitchen must be consumed by high-efficacy lighting, which typically refers to LEDs and fluorescents. To qualify as high-efficacy, luminaires must be certified by the manufacturer to the California Energy Commission and can't contain a socket that allows low-efficacy lighting, such as an incandescent. If they are LED, they must offer a minimum of 90 (out of 100) on the color-rendering index (CRI), which measures crispness and color accuracy. This is a fairly high CRI figure so confirm your fixtures meet the standard. In addition, the color temperature range must be between 2700-4000k for indoor use, which is a warmer and more ambient light than some of the earlier LEDs. Adjacent spaces, like breakfast nooks or dining areas, which operate on separate switches, aren't factored into the 50% equation.

"This has really pushed manufacturers and it can be tricky for designers too," explains Anna Kondolf, of her eponymous Fairfax, CA, lighting design firm. Like many designers, Kondolf will often mix incandescent products, which tend to offer a greater range of decorative options, dimming, and ambience, with LEDs, which are good for precision downlighting, cove lighting, and under-cabinet lighting. But under Title 24, if she wants to hang three schoolhouse-style incandescent (or incandescent-equivalent) pendants at 75 watts each over a kitchen island the rest of the room must total 225 watts in high-efficacy lighting. Since a typical recessed LED downlight is 15 watts, using 10 cans equals only 150 watts. Usually about three-quarters of the fixtures in the kitchen will have to be high-efficacy to achieve the proper wattage balance.

Unilume LED Slimline Undercabinet Light by TECH Lighting
Unilume LED Slimline Undercabinet Light from TECH Lighting

Adding under-cabinet lighting, which provides around 3-5 watts per linear foot, can help make up the difference and Kondolf likes TECH Lighting's Unilume Slimline. Plus, the size of the kitchen will also play in a role. "In a smaller kitchen, two incandescent pendants over a kitchen island should be fine, so you'll need less high-efficacy lighting," Ohm explains. "In a bigger kitchen, you'll require more recessed and under-cabinet lighting anyway, and if you have a high ceiling, you could add accent LED lighting on top of tall cabinets."

Link 5384 Triple Ceiling Light by Vibia
Link 5384 Triple Ceiling Light from Vibia

The good news, says Ohm, is that the lighting landscape has evolved significantly since 2008 when the rules first came out and there were only fluorescents and a few low-quality LEDs to work with. "You had to get much more creative to satisfy the 50/50 requirement," he says. "We would try to eat up all the high-efficacy requirements by hiding fluorescents in the ceiling and using them as an indirect lighting source, and then use incandescent fixtures for everything else."

Though there are still fewer decorative LEDs than incandescents, Ohm says, "the LED advances over the past two years have been truly amazing." And for those with a modern aesthetic, it's much easier to comply with Title 24 because the majority of LEDs come in streamlined styles. In fact, Kondolf sometimes uses LEDs exclusively in contemporary kitchens, bypassing the 50/50 rule altogether.

For recessed lighting, she recommends TECH Lighting's ELEMENTS with an 18-watt LED and 3-inch adjustable downlight. Holtkotter's R-9732 Sphere Reflector pendant would work well in a series of three or five over a bar or counter and WAC's Elliptic dwelLED pendant is nice for more ambient light.

WAC Lighting Elliptic dwelLED Pendant Light
Elliptic dwelLED Pendant Light from WAC Lighting

Another option Kondolf suggests for a long counter are the Crossroads, Knox, or Unison by TECH Lighting. When it comes to individual pendants, she likes the Cabo, Hudson, and Mini Echo.

Louis Poulsen LEDs are also among Kondolf's favorites, especially the AJ Eklipta, which she calls "a beautiful glass pillbox." Over a breakfast table she would hang Vibia's Rhythm Mixed Chandelier, and use the Domo and Link for surface-mounted ambient light.

In bathrooms, Title 24 requires at least one high-efficacy luminaire and all other lighting must be either high efficacy or controlled by vacancy sensor. Some vacancy sensors are unsightly, explains Ohm, so you may choose to opt for all high-efficacy designs. As with kitchens, there are myriad modern options, including Modern Forms' Glacier 1, Illuminating Experiences' Elf 1 sconce, and Sonneman's Tubo Slim Bath Bar. Luminaires in utility rooms, which include laundry rooms and garages, have to be both high efficacy and fitted with vacancy sensors.

For additional Title 24 rules, please consult the California Energy Commission's Title 24 Standards.

Jennifer Bush

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