CONCORD -- The life of property owners became a little more complicated and expensive when the Concord City Council unanimously approved changes to building permit applications in late October.
The ordinance updates building and planning regulations to include phasing in a statewide mandate that requires building permit applicants to immediately upgrade plumbing fixtures to low-flow in some circumstances, and that all plumbing fixtures installed before 1994 be changed to low-flow by Jan. 1, 2017.
Concord had no choice about making its regulations consistent with the state's environmentally oriented law because the enforcement responsibility falls to city and county governments.
Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, if a residential property owner makes any alternation or improvements, all of the fixtures in the house must be upgraded to low-flow, according to new rules that also apply to duplexes and residential properties with four or fewer units.
How the law will be interpreted is not quite clear yet. That means property owners who plan to make home, apartment, office or commercial improvements or repairs may want to check for local code changes before filing a permit application.
It appears that the Concord city staff is working to make the potentially expensive requirements as reasonable as possible for permit applicants who comply between Jan. 1, 2014 and Jan. 1, 2017.
"We are developing a list of projects that may not trigger the requirement because they are defined as a replacement or repair," said chief building official Robert Woods, who made the council presentation.
"Those might include exterior projects such as reroofing, siding, photovoltaic solar, replacement of heating and cooling systems or a hot water heater," he explained.
Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister suggested the staff work with other building chiefs to determine when the requirements would be triggered.
"Can you come back and loop with our (Concord) appeals board, so we don't have a confusing situation?" she requested.
Councilman Edi Birsan asked for, and received confirmation, that work on "mother-in-law" units would not trigger a requirement to replace all the plumbing in the main house.
The final version of the ordinance interpretation of state code enforcement is expected to evolve as Woods and his department compare it to interpretations by the California Building Association, the Tri-Valley Uniform Code committee, and the Concord Appeals Board.
"We may even find the need for changes after we begin to use it," Woods said.
The possibility of submitting a renovation project prior to the end of the year to avoid the plumbing fixture replacement requirement came up at the meeting, but that move would apparently not preclude having to replace all of the fixtures in 2017 anyway.
A different set of new regulations apply to apartments and commercial properties, even if they are four stories or taller. The 2013 version is a more stringent rule than the 2010 California Green Building Standards Code (CALGreen) which excluded higher structures.
Generally, if work is done in one room of a multifamily or commercial property, the plumbing fixtures in that room must be replaced, and all of the fixtures in the building must be upgraded when the floor area is increased more than 10 percent or if alterations cost more than $150,000. .
The ordinance also "cleans-up" energy, historical and development details, making them consistent with the 2013 California Building Standards Code.
Other significant state-imposed changes include a requirement for temporary construction trailers used as an on-site office or other function that must now be fully ADA accessible. Storage trailers are exempted.
Another code modification applies to fences in Concord only. It raises the existing fence height limit from six to seven feet, but property owners should check the code for details on design and materials.
Adopting the 2013 California Code of Regulations, Title 24, which includes CALGreen, is expected to increase enforcement costs and possibly slow city approval services, according to the staff ordinance report signed by City Manager Valerie Barone.
An increase of fees or the creation of new fees may be needed to mitigate the potential impact on city budgets, according to the report.
Contact Dana Guzzetti at email@example.com or call 925-202-9292.