New Buildings in California Now Required to Be More Efficient

New Buildings in California Now Required to Be More Efficient

New buildings in California must now be more environmentally responsible under provisions of the state's Green Building Standards Code that took effect with the new year.

CALGreen is the first statewide green building code in the country and contains voluntary as well as mandatory provisions. The required measures set a threshold for green building in the state and the voluntary portions provide parameters for higher standards of green building. The rules are the latest version of California building code provisions that began as entirely voluntary measures. Adopted in 2008, the provisions took effect in 2009 with a timetable to convert the baseline standards to mandatory measures.

"One of the big benefits of the new building code provisions is that they make the whole subject of green building much more accessible," said attorney Jennifer Hernandez, who co-chairs the environmental team at Holland & Knight in addition to leading the law firm’s West Coast land use and environment practice group.

Third-party programs, like the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards and rating system, "while terrific ... require a fair amount of assistance (to undergo their process)," Hernandez said, adding that such aspirational programs are "completely appropriate for emerging approaches and technologies."

"Third-party systems facilitate innovation," she said. "With the new building code, what's great is that the floor is now raised for everyone. A building code is a much more robust tool for driving widespread shifts in practices."

If CALGreen does not have a detrimental effect on building rates or costs, "look to other states and municipalities to follow" California's lead, wrote attorney Shari Shapiro in her Green Building Law Blog.

CALGreen requires new buildings to be more energy efficient, use less water and emit fewer pollutants. Among other things, the standards:

  • Set a threshold of a 20 percent reduction in indoor water use and voluntary goals for reductions of 30 percent, 35 percent and 40 percent.
  • Require separate meters for indoor and outdoor water use at nonresidential buildings; and at those sites, irrigation systems for larger landscaped areas must be moisture-sensing.
  • Call for 50 percent of construction waste to be diverted from the landfills and list higher, voluntary diversion amounts of 65 percent to 75 percent for new homes, and 80 percent for commercial construction.
  • Mandate inspections of energy systems -- such as heating, air conditioning and mechanical equipment -- for nonresidential buildings that are larger than 10,000 square feet to "ensure that all are working at their maximum capacity according to design efficiencies."
  • Require that paint, carpet, vinyl flooring, particle board and other interior finish materials be low-emitting in terms of pollutants.

A year ago, after the California Building Standards Commission unanimously adopted the code revisions that took effect on January 1 this year, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said, “The code will help us meet our goals of curbing global warming and achieving 33 percent renewable energy by 2020 and promotes the development of more sustainable communities by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving energy efficiency in every new home, office building or public structure."

California's landmark climate legislation, AB 32, calls for the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. AB 32 was signed into law by Schwarzenegger in 2006 and withstood a challenge in the polls last November. The mandatory provisions of CALGreen are expected to boost efforts to achieve the goal by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 3 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent, the California Air Resources Board estimates.

"People have been using building codes for many decades and they have been upgraded over the years," said Hernandez. She noted changes that have raised standards in numerous areas and recalled that one of the more contentious issues in recent memory was the requirement for fire sprinklers.

"The truth is that building codes are comfortable mandates and I think they (the mandatory provisions set by CALGreen) will be widely adopted without a lot of pushback from the development community," Hernandez said. "I really think the message for developers and builders at this point is the mandates are both practical and fully enforceable."

CALGreen was more than three years in the making. The building commission conferred with several state agencies as well as industry groups, environmentalists, green building organizations, architects, local and regional officials and other stakeholders. At various points, the discussion became heated and in the later stages of the talks, some of the strongest pushback came from green groups including the Northern California Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, Build It Green, Global Green, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund and Sierra Club California. While they praised several provisions in the code, the organizations were concerned that the measures create a "quasi rating system," which -- though voluntary -- could cause confusion in the marketplace and undermine stricter green building ordinances adopted by cities.

The state, which requires its new facilities and renovations involving 10,000 square feet or more to attain at least a LEED-Silver rating, disputed the critcism.

In her post, Shapiro said California will serve as a living laboratory to see what effect, if any, a green building code can have on LEED. She wrote:

"An interesting question that has been bandied about is what a green construction code will do to LEED. California will be an interesting laboratory. Will developers still seek LEED certification for their buildings when all new construction must be green? How sensitive is the customer base to green vs. more green?"


Image CC licensed by Flickr user freezr.