California’s ADU Solar Requirements: Does My ADU Need Solar Panels?
In 2020, California became the first state to require new homes to be equipped with solar panels to offset the use of grid electricity as part of its goal to achieve net-zero emissions by 2045.
Known as the California Solar Mandate or Title 24, this standard applies to single-family homes, apartments, condos, and – you guessed it – Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs).
ADUs are small, fully-finished living spaces that can be rented out or used as additional living space. They are also known as in-law suites, granny flats, and casitas.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at:
- California’s ADU solar requirements
- Exemptions to ADU solar requirements
- How to find a solar installer for your ADU
- Frequently asked questions
Let’s start by exploring California’s Title 24 ADU requirements.
For the most part, new ADUs need to have solar panels to be in compliance with California Title 24 Building and Energy Efficiency Standards.
Here’s what it says in the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) 2020 ADU handbook :
“Yes, newly constructed ADUs are subject to the Energy Code requirement to provide solar panels if the unit(s) is a newly constructed, non-manufactured, detached ADU.”
Solar panels are required to offset the ADUs electricity consumption, but they do not necessarily need to be installed on the ADU. They can also be:
- Installed on the main house, ground, other eligible structures
- Added to existing on-site arrays or, in some cases, community solar arrays
It’s important to note that these standards only apply to ADUs for which permitting was submitted after January 1, 2020. So if you had or built an ADU prior to 2020 you don’t need to add solar panels for it (although it might be worth it for the energy savings and additional home value).
Now, you may have noticed in the Title 24 ADU requirements above that HCD specifically requires solar panels for “newly constructed, non-manufactured, detached ADU(s).” That leaves room for exemptions for the solar requirement for some ADU projects.
Specifically, HCD’s 2020 ADU handbook states:
“ADUs that are constructed within existing space, or as an addition to existing homes, including detached additions where an existing detached building is converted from non-residential to residential space, are not subject to the Energy Code requirement to provide solar panels.”
Let’s take a closer look at some scenarios that could qualify for an exemption from Title 24.
This article does not constitute legal or financial advice. Please consult a licensed contractor, your city planning officials, or the California Energy Commision (email@example.com) with questions regarding Title 24 ADU exemptions.
Is the ADU new construction or an addition/conversion?
If you are adding to or converting an existing structure to create your ADU, you may be exempt from Title 24 solar requirements.
That’s because additions and conversions can be permitted as alterations instead of new construction. And, as the HCD pointed out, addition and conversion projects are not subject to the solar panel requirements in the energy code.
Exempt additions or conversions may include:
- Converting a detached garage to an ADU
- Converting part of your primary home to ADU
- Constructing an ADU as an addition to your primary home
Now, there are some gray areas here. For example, if you completely tear down a detached garage and rebuild it as an ADU, is that a conversion or new construction?
The answer will likely require a discussion with your city planning department, and it may be worth considering early on whether to risk delaying your ADU project in order to skirt around solar panel requirements.
Is the ADU a manufactured unit?
Manufactured ADUs are also exempt from Title 24 solar requirements.
Just like manufactured homes, manufactured ADUs are built off-site, transported, and placed on a foundation on-site. Manufactured ADUs are regulated by a differently than site-build ADUs and are exempt from solar panel requirements in California.
Manufactured ADUs may include tiny homes, modular homes, and other structures built primarily offsite. However, it’s worth consulting your city planners ahead of time to fully understand what qualifies as a manufactured ADU.
Does the ADU have a small or shaded roof?
Another avenue for Title 24 exemptions is for particularly small or shaded roofs. Even as the biggest advocates of rooftop solar, we’ll be the first to tell you solar panels and shade don’t mix.
According to a 2020 newsletter from the CEC:
“No PV is required if the effective annual solar access is restricted to less than 80 contiguous square feet by shading from existing permanent natural or man-made barriers external to the dwelling, including but not limited to trees, hills, and adjacent structures. The effective annual solar access shall be 70 percent or greater of the output of an unshaded PV array on an annual basis.”
However, if you file for exemption because your roof is too small or shaded, your city planners may explore alternative options for making solar viable on your lot.
Whether they are part of the requirement or not, putting solar panels on your ADU in California is likely worthwhile based solely on energy savings alone. Electricity is expensive in California and far outweighs the cost of going solar over the 25+ year lifespan of solar panels.
However, it can be tricky to find installers for an ADU solar project because larger companies often turned down smaller projects to prioritize large ones.
But through solar.com, you can get multiple quotes from our deep network of vetted local installers in California all from the comfort of your home. Better yet, we’ll pair you up with a dedicated Energy Advisor to help you compare quotes, claim incentives, and line up financing.
In order to customize a solar system for your ADU, we’ll need blueprints for the structure that includes the layout, square footage, roof pitch – the more info the better.
Does the 30% solar tax credit apply to ADU projects?
Yes, the 30% Residential Clean Energy Credit can be claimed for the installed cost of the solar panels required for newly constructed ADUs.
For example, if installing solar panels adds $10,000 to your ADU project, you can claim a tax credit worth $3,000. It’s important to note that the solar tax credit is non-refundable, which means it can only be used to lower your tax liability.
This article does not constitute tax advice. Consult a licensed tax professional with questions regarding the 30% federal solar tax credit.
How many solar panels do I need for an ADU?
The number of solar panels required for newly constructed ADUs under California’s Title 24 depends on the size, location, and projected electrical usage of the ADU.
According to the 2022 Building Energy Efficiency Standards, the formula for determining the minimum solar capacity for dwelling spaces goes as follows:
kW (PV)required = (CFA x A)/1000 + (NDwell x B)
- kW(PV) = kW(DC) size of the PV system
- CFA = Conditioned floor area
- NDwell = Number of dwelling units
- A = Adjustment factor (from Table 7-1 below)
- B = Dwelling adjustment factor (from Table 7-1 below)
How much does it cost to install solar panels on an ADU?
The cost of installing solar panels on an ADU varies based on the size and location of the project. But at an average cost of 8 cents per kWh, going solar through solar.com is much cheaper than paying for grid electricity in California.
Cost of solar vs grid electricity in California
|Electricity source||Average cost*|
|Solar through solar.com||8 cents per kWh|
|Grid – Los Angeles||25.7 cents per kWh|
|Riverside||26.0 cents per kWh|
|San Diego||40.9 cents per kWh|
|San Francisco||30.7 cents per kWh|
*October 2022 prices per Bureau of Labor Statistics.