California's Roofing Laws

By Leslie Bloom - Updated August 01, 2018
new roof installation

While putting a roof on a home or building seems like a relatively standard job, there are many regulations that must be followed to ensure the job is done right. California roofing codes establish a list of rules that all builders and contractors must adhere to in order to ensure safe building practices within the state. California roofing laws cover everything from licensure of the roofing company to the types of shingles that must be used to the slope of the roof. As a leader in solar energy, California roofing requirements even extend to installation of energy efficient roofs.

California Roofer Licensing

Any roofer or contractor you work with should be licensed and knowledgable about the extensive California roofing codes. The state requires contractors or roofers who work on projects that cost $500 or more to be licensed by the state Contractors State License Board. Many cities also require a business license that is valid in that particular district.

A valid license ensures that the roofer or contractor is proficient in state regulations and has workers’ compensation insurance in the event of an accident or injury. Working with a licensed professional means you don’t have to worry about the potential added expense of property damage, injury of a worker on your property or incomplete or faulty work.

The roofer’s license information should be included on his business card, website or other advertising. You can check the status of the roofer’s license online through the Contractors State License Board to make sure it’s current and valid.

Needed Roofing Permits

Once you have a licensed contractor ready to do your roofing job, they need to pull a roofing permit. The rules governing roofing permits vary among districts. For example, the Department of Economic and Community Development in Daly City requires a permit application to be submitted for any roofing work covering more than 100 square feet. The district of Palm Desert requires a permit for any roofing work or repairs.

There is a charge for a roofing permit, which varies in each city as well. The contractor you hire typically pulls the permit, but you pay the fees. You can be fined for doing roofing work without a permit if one is required, so be sure the proper permits are obtained before your roofing project begins.

California Roofing Codes

California roofing laws are found in the California Residential Code for residential structures and the California Building Code for nonresidential structures. California roofing requirements under the California Residential Code cover everything from what suitable materials to use to requirements for roof coverings to roof insulation. There are also provisions for fire classification, weather protection, re-roofing, roof drainage and solar power. The California Residential Code covers everything needed for a typical residential roofing or re-roofing project.

Roofing requirements for the design, materials, construction and quality of roof assemblies for residences are listed in the California Residential Code Chapter 9 . All materials used in a roof assembly must be both weather- and fire-safe, as well as compatible with each other. The code lays out specific requirements for a variety of roofing materials, including asphalt shingles, clay and concrete tile, metal roof shingles, mineral-surfaced roll roofing, slate and slate-type shingles, wood shingles, wood shakes and metal roof panels.

Roof-ceiling construction requirements are listed in California Residential Code Chapter 8. These requirements cover the design and construction of roof-ceiling systems, including roof framing, roof drainage, roof sheathing, ceiling finishes, roof ventilation and attic access. Chapter 8 includes specifics for such things as allowable lumber to use, the moisture content of fire retardant-treated wood, allowable rafter spans and use of ceiling joists. This code must be followed down to the specific feet and inches mentioned for each component.

Roofing requirements for the design, materials, construction and quality of roof assemblies and structures for commercial buildings are listed in California Building Code Chapter 15. The California Building Code covers many of the same topics as the California roofing requirements, including weather protection, fire classification, roof insulation, requirements for roof coverings and suitable materials to use. Since this section of the California roofing laws applies to structures that are not residential, namely businesses and commercial buildings, there are some additional provisions. These include impact resistance of the roof, seismic anchorage and radiant barriers.

The building code also includes California roofing codes on rooftop structures, such as penthouses, tanks, cooling towers, domes, flagpoles and fences. It takes into account everything other than a typical residential roof that a building may have. No matter what type of building you contract for, the roofer should be proficient in the appropriate California roofing laws to make sure everything is done up to code. During the roofing project, an inspector from the city in which the project is being done will check in with your project to make sure it is up to code, and to make mid-project corrections if needed.

Cool Roofs in California

One of the roofing provisions unique to California is the idea of a cool roof. Cool roofs are made up of materials that reflect the sun’s heat off the roof’s surface so that they retain and pass on less heat. They reduce the need for air conditioning by naturally cooling the property and, in turn, reduce electricity bills and carbon emissions. For this reason, cool roofs became part of California’s energy code, the Title 24 Building Energy Efficiency Standards. Cool roofs are required for both residential and nonresidential projects in certain climate zones throughout the state of California, generally those with high-sun conditions. Requirements vary by roof style or slope.

Cool roofs are also required for homes in certain climates where more than 50 percent of the roof is replaced, recovered or recoated. Under Title 24, cool roofs are required for commercial buildings where either 50 percent or 2,000 square feet of the existing roof is replaced, recovered or recoated, whichever is less.

Only certain roofs qualify as cool roofs. Under Title 24, the roofing materials need to be sufficiently rated by the Cool Roof Rating Council. They must also meet the Solar Reflective Index values indicated in the code for being able to reflect the sun’s energy back into the atmosphere. Cool roofs come in most any color and style, including shingle, tile and spray-on liquid coatings.

Cool roofing requirements are listed in the following sections of Title 24:

  • Section 10-113: Certification and Labelling of Roofing Product Reflectance and Emittance
  • Section 140.1:Performance Approach: Energy Budgets
  • Section 140.2: Prescriptive Approach
  • Section 140.3(a)1: Prescriptive Requirements for Building Envelopes
  • Section 141.0(b)2B: Additions, Alterations, and Repairs to Existing Nonresidential,  High-Rise Residential, and Hotel/Motel Buildings)
  • Section 150.1(c)11: Performance and Prescriptive Compliance Approaches for Low-Rise Residential Buildings)
  • Section 150.2(b)1H: (Energy Efficiency Standards for Additions and Alterations to Existing Low-Rise Residential Buildings – Alterations - Prescriptive)
  • Section 150.2(b)2: Energy Efficiency Standards for Additions and Alterations to Existing Low-Rise Residential Buildings – Alterations – Performance Approach

Roofing Within Fire Protection Districts

Due to California's climate, many areas of the state are at high risk for fires. This means that building within designated fire-hazard severity zones is greatly restricted. California roofing codes state that any property within a very high fire-hazard severity zone requires a Class A fire-retardant roof covering. Class A roof assemblies and coverings can withstand severe fires. Buildings within downgraded state responsibility areas require a Class B fire-retardant roof covering. Class B roof assemblies and coverings can withstand moderate fires.

Installation of Class A or Class B roof coverings is mandatory when any roofing work is carried out on 50 percent or more of the total roof area of the property. Structures outside of fire-hazard zones require at least Class C fire-retardant roof covering. Class C roof assemblies and coverings can withstand light fires. The fire safety designations extend to roofs made from shingles and shakes, as well as those with solar panels.

California Solar Roofing Requirement

Under a mandate adopted by the California Energy Commission, new homes built in the state of California must have solar roofing, beginning in 2020. Title 24 requirements also apply to additions and alterations to existing buildings. This new standard aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state and slash energy use by homeowners. The California Energy Commission estimates that homes will use more than 50 percent less energy with rooftop solar electricity generation. This, in turns, reduces greenhouse gases by an amount equivalent to removing 115,000 gas-guzzling cars from the road.

In addition to solar roofing, the energy commission’s recent standards want new buildings to include:

  • High-performance attics, walls and windows that help save energy and improve comfort in homes.
  • Demand-responsive technologies, such as battery storage and heat pump water heaters.
  • Increased use of LED lighting through nonresidential buildings.
  • Use of high-efficiency air filters that better trap hazardous particulars from entering the building.

Key to the new California roofing standards is that the rooftop solar generation is enough to meet the home’s annual electricity needs without producing too much excess energy. When excess solar energy is produced, it is exported from the home to the state’s solar grid, often when it may not be needed and at no financial benefit to the homeowner.

Questions to Ask When Hiring a Roofer

Whether you are undertaking roofing for a house or other building, you want to make sure you hire a roofer who is not only licensed, but who is knowledgeable with California roofing codes. Not hiring the right roofer can be a disaster for your home or building and lead to a lot of extra costs down the road, especially if the roof violates your local roofing permit requirements.

Here are some questions to ask when hiring a roofer:

  • What is your license number?
  • What is your labor warranty?
  • Can I contact your insurance carrier to confirm you have liability and workman’s compensation coverage?
  • Can I have the name of two or three people you’ve done projects for?
  • Are there roofs you’ve done in my neighborhood that I can check out?
  • What are you going to replace on the roof and what materials will you be using?
  • Can I see some samples of the shingles that will be installed?
  • How will the job site look at the end of each day?
  • How long will it take to roof the building?
  • What is the cost of any wood that may need to be replaced?
  • Do you do solar paneling and what is the cost?

Since you are likely to put a new roof on your house only once during the time you own it, you want to make sure you do it right. Get a referral when you can, and be sure to do your research. You want a contractor who is both a stickler for California roofing laws and who can give you the look you want on your property.

About the Author

Leslie Bloom earned a J.D. from U.C. Davis’ King Hall, with a focus on public interest law. She is a licensed attorney who has done advocacy work for children and women. She holds a B.S. in print journalism, and has more than 20 years of experience writing for a variety of print and online publications, including the Journal of Juvenile Law and Policy.

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