2020 California Construction Law Update

As 2020 fast approaches, we ring in many new changes to California’s construction laws.

Among other changes, California adopted its 2019 triennial revisions to the California Building Code which take effect on January 1, 2020. Revisions include aligning state structural steel and masonry construction engineering requirements with national standards, minor revisions to standards for wood construction, support and anchorage requirements of solar panels in accordance with industry standards, and clarification of testing and special inspection requirements for selected building materials during construction.

On the state legislative side, California enacted a number of new laws in the areas of affordable housing and alternative energy use.

So, without further ado, here are the new laws going into effect on January 1, 2020:

Building Code

The California Building Standards Commission adopted its 2019 triennial revisions to the California Building Code. A few highlights:

Engineering Requirements

  • Precast concrete diaphragms designs must use ASCE 7 Section 14.2.4.
  • New design standard for open-web steel joists.
  • 2015 AISI standards for cold-formed steel adopted.
  • Wood structural panel roof sheathing may have cantilevers 9 inches beyond supporting gable end wall without support.

Special Inspection Requirements

  • Metal-plate-connected wood trusses for trusses 60 inches or greater in height are subject to new special inspection requirements.
  • Automatic fire sprinkler systems equipment is subject to new special inspection requirements.

Barrier Systems/Balconies and Elevated Walking Surfaces

  • Plans submitted must detail all elements of impervious moisture barrier system as well as manufacturers installation instructions for exterior balconies and elevated walking surfaces.
  • Elements of moisture barrier system must not be concealed until inspected and approved.
  • New slope requirements for impervious moisture barrier systems protecting structure supporting floors.
  • To maintain consistency with the ASCE 7, the live load for balconies and decks is updated to 1.5 times the live load for the area served.
  • Venting is required for enclosed framing in exterior balconies and exterior walkway surfaces that are exposed to rain or drainage.


  • Maximum rise of a flight stairs has increased from 147 to 151 inches.

Accessory Storage Spaces

  • Accessory storage spaces no longer need to be less than 100 square feet to be classified as part of the same occupancy.

Solar Panels & Ventilation Systems

  • Solar panels are required in all new construction homes and certain remodeled homes beginning January 1, 2020.
  • Revised requirements for the design of live, dead, and wind loads for roofs with solar panel systems.
  • Air handling units are now required to have ratings of MERV 13.
  • Air filters for heating/cooling or ventilation systems must have a MERV rating of 13.


  • Electric vehicle charging infrastructure required for new parking areas and additions to existing parking.
  • Minimum number of shade trees needed to provide shade to surface parking areas as well as landscape and hardscape areas.

Affordable Housing

SB 330 – Reduces the number of hearings a city or county conducts if a proposed housing development complies with applicable, objective general plan and zoning standards. Reduces the number of days a lead agency is required to approve or disapprove a project from 120 to 90 days for a development project and 90 to 60 days for a development meeting certain affordability conditions. Prohibits a county or city from enacting policies, standards, or conditions changing land use designation or zoning of property a less intensive use within an existing zoning district below what was allowed under the general plan or specific plan land use designation and zoning ordinances of the county or city; impose or enforce a moratorium on housing development; impose or enforce non-objective new design standards; or establish or implement limits on number of permits issued.

AB 68/AB 670/AB 881/AB 587/SB 13 – Deletes minimum lot size requirements to build an accessory dwelling unit (aka in-law unit) and prohibits imposition of limitations on lot coverage, floor to area ratio, open space, and minimum lot size if they prohibit construction of accessory dwelling units meeting those limitations. Makes any covenant, restriction, deed, contract, security instrument, or any provision of a governing document that prohibits or restricts the construction of an accessory dwelling unit on a lot zoned for single-family residential void and unenforceable.

AB 1485 – Adds a new class of eligible projects qualifying for streamlined permitting approval under SB 35 because of the difficulty for developers to meet the affordability requirements of SB 35.  Adopted in 2017, SB 35 requires local entities to approve certain housing projects through a ministerial approval process within certain timeframes and excepted from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) analysis as well as Conditional Use Authorization requirement.

Projects located in certain qualifying San Francisco Bay area cities or unincorporated areas (Counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, Sonoma, and San Francisco), containing 10 or more units and providing 20% affordable housing to households earning below 120% AMI, qualify for streamlined project approval. Units used to satisfy the affordable housing requirements can also be used to satisfy other inclusionary affordability requirements.

Alternative Project Delivery

SB 128 – Extends the pilot program allowing certain counties to select a bidder on a “best value” basis for construction projects over $1 million to January 1, 2025 and adds the counties of Monterey and Santa Clara in addition to the existing counties of Alameda, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Mateo, Solano, and Yuba. Best value construction contracting method may be used to award individual annual contracts, not exceeding $3 million for repair, remodeling, or other repetitive work. Participating counties must submit a report describing, among other things, the projects awarded using the best value procedure.

AB 695 – On or after July 1, 2020, a design-build entity cannot be prequalified or shortlisted unless the entity provides an enforceable commitment to the school district that the entity and its subcontractors use skilled and trained workers or building and construction trade apprentices to perform all work on the project or contract.

Alternative Dispute Resolution for Public Works Projects

AB 456 – Extends the claim resolution process for any claim in relation to a public work project from January 1, 2020 to January 1, 2027.

Prevailing Wages

AB 1768 – Workers employed on public work project may not be paid less than general prevailing rate of per diem wages. Expands the definition of public works to include preconstruction works such as design, feasibility studies, land surveying, and site assessments.

Common Interest Developments

SB 326 – An association of condominium project must conduct a reasonably competent and diligent visual inspection of exterior elevated elements, defined as load-bearing components and associated waterproofing systems.

Progress Payments

SB 197 – Department of Transportation is indefinitely prohibited from withholding retention proceeds when making progress payments for work performed by a contractor.

Wishing you and yours a happy 2020!

6 Responses to “2020 California Construction Law Update”

  1. Daniel Allen

    David – I believe the energy code has an exception for roofs shaded more than 50% (other than shading themselves):

    Exception 4 to Section 110.10(b)1A: Buildings with a designated solar zone area that is no less than 50 percent of the potential solar zone area. The potential solar zone area is the total area of any low-sloped roofs where the annual solar access is 70 percent or greater and any steepsloped roofs oriented between 90 degrees and 300 degrees of true north where the annual solar access is 70 percent or greater. Solar access is the ratio of solar insolation including shade to the solar insolation without shade. Shading from obstructions located on the roof or any other part of the building shall not be included in the determination of annual solar access.

  2. David Ross

    Thanks for the recap, Garret. Much to digest here.

    I wonder about the new solar panel requirement – how well equipped are local building departments for dealing with the many nuanced exceptions that will surely pop up? For example, my home’s roof has a couple of spots that may get 80sf of sunlight, but only on certain days, certain times of day and certain seasons (because of changing sun angle). In fact my home is not visible on Google Earth because it has a nearly 100% tree canopy coverage.

    I get that in a new housing development builders are likely to clear cut the whole tract, but it would be a shame and perhaps counter-productive for infill projects to do the same – because of the tree canopy I have no need for AC, for example. Exposure to sunlight all day would change that calculus for sure. Also, many communities value their trees and are reluctant to promote their removal.

    Combined with the growing number of jurisdictions banning gas appliances, the electrical draw for new homes will be significantly higher, resulting in more panels and greater need for rooftop exposure to direct sun.

    And then layer on PG&E’s forecast for 10 years of PSPS (public safety power shutdowns); more folks (including us) are moving toward larger standby generator systems powered by … wait for it .. natural gas.

    I understand that legislation requires years, consideration of many moving parts and trade-offs. My concern of the moment is how well-equipped the plan check and building code enforcement communities are for this. I’ve read plenty about the new codes, but very little about roll-out.


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