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Green Building News

CalGreen Code Goes from Voluntary to Mandatory

California’s statewide Green Building Standards Code applies to all new buildings, sets new standards, and serves as a foundation for further greening

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Image Credit: California Building Standards Commission
Image Credit: California Building Standards Commission CalGreen’s water efficiency requirements for residential construction aim to reduce overall use of potable water by 20%. In its descriptions of building envelope requirements, the California Energy Commission’s 2008 Residential Compliance Manual notes that both the U-factor and the solar heat gain coefficient of manufactured windows be verified by the National Fenestration Rating Council’s Certified Product Directory or Energy Commission-approved default tables. The U-factor and SHGC values, in turn, also must meet or exceed the performance requirements identified in the manual.

Even though many builders in California have already adopted its Green Building Standards Code, its provisions officially segued from voluntary to mandatory on January 1.

Now comes the fun part. The construction industry will be watching to see how the code – which includes scores of green-specific requirements for both residential and commercial projects, plus more than 130 optional provisions for nonresidential buildings – affects construction costs and fares under the current compliance enforcement setup, which uses local public agencies’ existing building code enforcement systems and, when necessary, special inspectors.

Another aspect of the code’s implementation is its possibly diluting effect on the market for LEED certifications, notes Shari Shapiro, a LEED AP and attorney at Philadelphia-based Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel, in her Green Building Law blog. “Will developers still seek LEED certification for their buildings when all new construction must be green?” asks Shapiro (who also has been following Henry Gifford’s lawsuit against the U.S. Green Building Council). “How sensitive is the customer base to ‘green’ vs. ‘more green’?”

A big first step

The Green Building Standards Code, otherwise known as CalGreen, is Part 11 of the California Energy Code, or Title 24, of the California Code of Regulations, and also is the first statewide green building code in the nation. But as acknowledged by the California Building Standards Commission, the agency that led CalGreen’s development, the code also is a work in progress. “The code is not perfect,” the CBSC says in its overview of CalGreen. “However, CalGreen is a fundamental yet vital step in mainstreaming green building design and a tremendous step toward the reduction in the carbon footprint buildings have on the environment in California.”

For residential construction, CalGreen addresses five main areas: planning and design; energy efficiency (whose code requirements are set by the California Energy Commission); water efficiency and conservation; material conservation and resource efficiency; and environmental quality (which is aimed at “reducing the quantity of air contaminants that are odorous, irritating and/or harmful to the comfort and well-being of a building’s installers, occupants and neighbors”).

One planning-and-design topic covered in the CalGreen code document for residential construction (a 193-page pdf), for example, is storm water drainage and retention during construction (for projects on an acre or less) to prevent flooding of adjacent property, erosion, and soil runoff. Mandatory standards for energy efficiency have been set by the California Energy Commission in its 2008 Residential Compliance Manual (a 77-page pdf), although the CBSC points out that the CEC “believes specifically a green building should achieve at least a 15% reduction in energy usage when compared to the state’s mandatory energy efficiency standards.”

For water efficiency, CalGreen is designed to reduce overall use of potable water by at least 20%, as measured by specified plumbing fixture flow rates. Addressing material conservation and resource efficiency, CalGreen requires that at least 50% of a project’s nonhazardous construction and demolition debris be recycled or salvaged for reuse (except for excavated soil and land-clearing debris, or when local recycling facilities do not exist).

Nonprofit green-resources specialist Green Technology, in collaboration with the CBSC, continues to present CalGreen training seminars at several locations throughout the state. Registration costs $95 for private-sector participants. Click here for more information.

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