Statewide Green Building Code in California


California has recently adopted the nation’s first mandatory statewide green building standards code. The code known as CALGREEN will take effect on January 1, 2011. It is a regulatory code affecting state regulated buildings and structures, including residential and commercial buildings, such as hospitals and schools. The code includes such requirements as a 20% reduction in indoor and outdoor water usage, a 50% construction waste diversion from landfills, mandatory inspections of energy systems to ensure maximum efficiency and the use of low-emitting finish materials.

In order to determine which of the code provisions are applicable to a specific occupancy the following steps are recommended:

  1. Establish type of occupancy.
  2. Verify which state agency has authority.
  3. Reference the code chapter that covers the established occupancy.
  4. Consult the Matrix Adoption Table to identify the mandatory green building measures necessary to meet the minimum requirements.
  5. Review the Voluntary Tier Measures and determine inclusion of those measures.
  6. Complete the Application Checklist to identify which measures are required and which voluntary items have been implemented.
  7. Documentation of conformance for applicable green building measures shall be provided to the enforcing agency for verification

According to a press release, California’s property owners will simply build per the state’s new CALGREEN Code and will in turn receive a no cost green certification. The certification will be known as CALGREEN Tier 1 or CALGREEN Tier 2. It is stated that this mandatory code will allow builders to build to a certifiable green standard without having to pay costly fees for third-party programs. The intention is for local and state building inspectors to verify these mandatory code provisions. Stating that verification of the green code will be a ‘simple transition’ for local building inspectors.

The reaction of several environmental groups and green builders are mixed regarding this issue. At the national level, USGBC has expressed concern over certain provisions of the new code, while supporting many of its measures. Groups such as the Sierra Club, the National Resources Defense Council and Global Green largely applaud the code’s mandatory rules as a minimum baseline standard. However, they take issue with its two-tier labeling system, saying it will be open to conflicting interpretations and unenforceable by local building inspectors. The director of USGBC’s Northern California Chapter says “The tiers cause confusion in the marketplace and the potential for builders to label their buildings green without substantiating their claims”. Elizabeth Echols goes on to say that many local officials who would be responsible for verifying builder claims do not have the technical expertise that LEED and other third-party verifiers provide.

It will be interesting to see how the implementation, enforcement and verification of this code develops as the draft is finalized and submitted for publication.

To view a draft copy of the code, click on the following link:

Submitted by Barbara Anderson, a member of the USGBC-STL Advocacy Committee and an architect at AAIC.

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