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Live from California: Why Title 24 Lighting Laws Suck

California's Ill-conceived Title 24 "energy efficiency" law leaves us with a 2,100-square-foot apartment that has virtually no overhead lights.


A standard light switch controls standard light fixtures right next to the lights controlled by an “energy efficient” occupancy-sensor-enabled switch. Kind of defeats the purpose, no?

Just to prove that I am an equal-protection technology hater since my move to California, I will now rail on something other than the crappy Time Warner Cable service here.

My new grudge is against California’s Title 24 “Energy Efficiency Standards” law, which mandates (among other things) that dimmers, occupancy sensors and/or energy-efficient lighting be installed in certain areas of the home (and commercial buildings).

We know well that many builders and contractors in California flout the law by complying with it only until the inspector has blessed the premises. Then the occupancy-sensing light switches are swapped out with traditional switches and headed to the next place that needs to pass inspection. Ditto with the “high-efficiency” lighting.

Now that I live here, the stupidity of the law becomes evident.

I rent a work/live loft, where the bottom floor is zoned for commercial, and the upstairs space includes an open kitchen/family room and another floor for the master suite.

I was first struck by the mandated occ sensors in the bathrooms and laundry area. Next to each “energy efficient” switch is a standard on/off switch that controls a second bank of lights right next to the “automated” ones. How dumb is that? Kind of defeats the purpose of occ-sensing lights, no?

RELATED: Politicians Sorely Misguided on Energy Policies

The rule says that energy-efficient lighting must be present in these spaces, but it does not prohibit standard energy-sucking fixtures and switches adjacent to them. Dumb.

But the most debilitating effect of Title 24 is this: Because it mandates a certain percentage of energy-efficient lighting solutions in most spaces … our apartment chose to exclude overhead lights altogether, except for the few places where occupancy sensors or dimmers are required by law.

Our work space of about 800 square feet comes without can lights. There are accommodations for such lighting but the facility skirts the law by simply failing to include fixtures. There are some switched outlets as well so tenants can BYOL (bring your own lighting).

Likewise, there are no overhead lights provided in the large master suite, nor (worse!) the enormous open-space great room that has two-story-high ceilings. So we need to hire a pro to come in and screw in a light bulb or install a light fixture?

Oddly, the walk-in closet has standard switches, in a place where occupancy sensors might be the most helpful.


Why doesn’t California just leave lighting and other energy efficiencies to the consumers and manufacturers themselves? We’re heading that way all by ourselves.

Are you kidding me?!
No overhead lights are provided in the work space, the great room or the master suite above, so the apartment isn't liable for Title 24 compliance.


How California’s Title 24 Lighting Law Affects Dealers
Politicians Sorely Misguided on Energy Policies
New Federal Energy Law Creates Lighting Control Challenges

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Article Topics

News · Blogs · Home Automation and Control · Lighting · Energy Management · · All topics

About the Author

Julie Jacobson, Co-Founder, EH Publishing / Editor-at-large, CE Pro
Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson. [More by Julie Jacobson]

26 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by Barry Obama  on  07/17  at  01:04 PM

C’mon Julie, the government clearly knows what is best and can mandate changes because the gen pop is stupid…duh

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  07/17  at  01:12 PM

Silly me.

Posted by Smith92648  on  07/17  at  01:24 PM

Current T24 requires more sensing and high-efficacy lighting than ever. Good thing for those earning a living as a technology experts (e.g.: your readers). The better ESC’s in CA embrace T24 not just b/c it is inevitable, but b/c it is profitable. In addition, T24 is effective: Since it’s inception in the 1980’s, California’s per-capita electricity use has remained near flat while the U.S. has risen markedly. This often gets missed in the tsunami of CA bashing.

Posted by Dallas Dingle  on  07/17  at  01:57 PM

I always rant about this,but cant hurt to do it again. What about the air conditioners??They use more energy than dozens of lightbulbs. I suspect you wouldnt get re-elected if you limited how people stay cool and comfortable!

Posted by Paul  on  07/17  at  04:28 PM

I have main rooms without overhead lighting in my house too, stupid CA laws! Oh wait, Iive in WA, so I guess it would just be what I would consider a poor builder choice, maybe just like your one example that you just extrapolated out to apply to all of CA and be because of this law.
While I don’t believe any law can get out of government without errors and corruption of intent due to corporate money and partisanship, I applaud CA gov on their continued pushing for energy efficiency to try to keep our over use contained as population and other needs race ahead.  Individuals in all the other states benefit because of CA as they are guaranteeing (mandating) a large enough market for low energy lighting and devices that justify manf investment that likely wouldn’t have been clear by dispersed interest.  It is also a great opportunity for the custom installers here as it creates opportunity they can meet that your standard builder isn’t as equipped for.  Your article, which seems like space filler, should have been in service of the audience of the site and focused on the opportunity.
That said, you can now get to writing your next article about how stupid it is that CA has more than one garbage can taking up space at your house as of course everyone is just throw everything into one anyway…

Posted by John Nemesh  on  07/17  at  05:12 PM

You know, the Chinese ideogram for “crisis” is a combination of the ideograms for “danger” and “opportunity”!

Instead of complaining that these laws are “stupid”, unfair, or otherwise a problem for you and your business, you might look at the opportunities that these laws give us in the industry!

There are PLENTY of lighting control products that would meet or exceed what T24 requires, and these products MAKE DEALERS MONEY!!!

Take some time to look at what products you could be offering builders or end users to enhance the space, and bring BENEFITS to your customers.

If you HAVE to be in compliance…you may as well make more money doing so!

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  07/17  at  05:25 PM

I should have linked to an earlier story - 5 Ways to Profit From Ridiculous Regulations

There are definitely opportunities for dealers to be knowledgeable, but that doesn’t mean they can convince the government that OUR industry’s energy-management solutions make far more sense than THEIRS.

Also, at what price do these regulations come? I, for one, have no lights in my place. It’s easier for apartment complexes to simply ignore Title 24 and only install lights where the law mandates.

Innovative companies like LumenCache, maker of a new Cat5-based LED lighting solution, have to jump through hoops to make sure their systems are T24 compliant in California.

And don’t forget that California is in worse financial shape than virtually any other state. Taxes are extreme, in part due to subsidies for wasteful spending on counterproductive initiatives in the name of energy efficiency.

Posted by Smith92648  on  07/17  at  05:51 PM

@Dallas Dingle: Ltg. is a small portion of T24. It covers AC & most every other aspect of a building relating to energy.
@Paul: Good point. If code require a fence, blame the builder for the ugly chain-link, not the code! The most dramatically-lit resi spaces I’ve encountered meet/exceed T24.
@Julie: As long as the market pays for crap, that’s what they’ll get. Hire one of your readers to specify & install good lighting & control that meets T24. Trade up! You sound like one of our customers expecting Mazerati on a Kia budget!

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  07/17  at  06:08 PM

Unfortunately, the government lulls consumers into thinking that they have an energy-efficient house because of Title 24 regulations. They see these fancy occ sensors and a couple of dimmers and think they have an effective lighting control system.

Instead of all these counterproductive mandates for everything in the home, let consumers determine how to save energy. A couple of smart thermostats, for example, could save more energy than all the other measures that the government demands.

Motorized shades could do the same thing.

And so on and so on ...

Posted by Smith92648  on  07/17  at  07:16 PM

“Counterproductive”? Clueless! There are lots of things wrong with CA, T24 is not one of them. Dozens of states are in the process of adopting T24 as is. Reason: It is effective at reducing load & stalls need for new power plants. Yes, it prohibits unlimited number of 150-watt down lights on switches like Grandma’s house. So what? There are better alternatives that your readers make money on. Would you feel any better if your builder put in junk lighting without T24? Clueless!

Posted by Larry  on  07/17  at  11:10 PM


Next time you want to show off your apartment please don’t do it in the guise of an article. Looks like Duane is making a pretty penny on the West Coast. I am assuming CEPro still pays the same even with your new coastal access.

Oh yeah government sucks and they don’t know anything.

Posted by RyanE  on  07/18  at  05:18 AM

Well, Julie might not *feel* better if the builder put in junk lighting without T24, but she’d be able to *see* better.

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  07/18  at  09:01 AM

Actually, I was showing off my furniture.

Posted by Derek Cowburn  on  07/18  at  02:44 PM

Sometimes the laws create the wrong incentives. I did a T24 job in Palo Alto in 2008 and the architect added lights to “make the ratios work” so the incentive is poorly designed.

Then you have places like Australia where the code simply states you can’t consume more than 5W per square meter for lighting. (—new-lighting-requirements-building-code-of-australia.html)  It does not say how or what product you should use, just get your consumption down—which is of course the desired goal.

Without sounding like a product plug, I’d like to throw out a solution that Cat5 lighting does allow and traditional AC does not:

Put in the Cat5 for the lights but tack in the ceiling like you do for unused speakers.  Use the X-Spot markers and add the lights in later as needed by simply cutting a hole, tipping the Cat5, and popping the light in.

Our current batch of lights are in the 100lm/W range (VERY efficient, very bright).  Cree announced 250lm/W chips so figure they will be commercialized in the next 2 years.  That brings a 65w incandescent equivalent fixture down to just 3W!  Amazing and very cool (tah-dum-dump-tschhh sound here).

Prewire now and leave the wires for when you need them.  The code will change slooooowly but I do agree with the mandate to help nudge people away from inefficient products.

Posted by Smith92648  on  07/18  at  02:55 PM

Move to CA, buy/rent a poorly lit space built by a cut-corner builder and *poof* you’re an expert on lighting and energy legislation. Arrogance & ignorance all in one package.

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