Break-Through Mandatory Green Building Standards Code Effective in California

Green Space Today
Melissa Sobota

In early 2007, California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger directed the California Building Standards Commission (“CBSC”) to begin the process of developing green building standards for the State of California. The CBSC worked with other state agencies to develop the green building standards and in August 2009, the 2008 California Green Building Standards Code went into effect. The provisions of the 2008 Code were voluntary, but were well-accepted around the state and eventually led to the 2010 California Green Building Standards Code.

As of January 1, 2011, the California Green Building Standards Code (commonly referred to as CALGreen) became mandatory throughout the state of California. The purpose of CALGreen is to improve the public health, safety and general welfare by enhancing design and construction of buildings through the use of building concepts having a reduced negative impact or positive environmental impact and encouraging sustainable construction practices in: 1. Planning and design; 2. energy efficiency; 3. water efficiency; 4. material conservation and resource efficiency; and 5. environmental quality. Under the CALGreen new buildings will be required to reduce water consumption, increase building system efficiencies, recycle non-hazardous construction waste, and install low pollutant-emitting finish materials. It has approximately 52 mandatory measures and includes an additional 130 optional measures.

CALGreen sets the minimum standards that are to be employed in the new construction of all state-regulated buildings throughout the State of California, including state-owned buildings, low-rise residential buildings, public elementary and secondary schools along with community colleges that are regulated by the Division of State Architecture, qualified historical buildings, medical facilities regulated by the Department of Public Health and correctional facilities. It will also apply to energy efficiency standards regulated by the California Energy Commission and gray water systems that are regulated by the Department of Water Resources and Department of Housing and the Department of Housing and Community Development. Local municipalities will be responsible for enforcing the requirements of CALGreen by including the CALGreen code provisions in their construction field inspections.

Some of the key mandatory measure that are to apply to all commercial occupancies include specified parking for clean air vehicles, 20% reduction of potable water use, recycle and/or salvage for reuse a minimum of 50% of the nonhazardous construction and demolition debris, and use of building finish materials that emit low levels of volatile organic compounds.

CALGreen sets the minimum standards, but local counties and municipalities are permitted to adopt ordinances that include more restrictive requirements than those provided in CALGreen depending on their local climatic, geological, or topographical conditions. CALGreen also contains an optional two-tiered system that is designed to allow jurisdictions to adopt codes that go beyond the mandatory provisions. The two tiered system provides for stringent requirements that must be met, including an increased reduction of energy usage by fifteen to thirty percent, an increased reduction in potable water use, additional parking for clean air vehicles, cool roofs, additional construction waste diversion, additional use of recycled materials, and the use of low-emitting resilient flooring and thermal insulation.

These standards were adopted after the CBSC, the Division of the State Architect and the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development reviewed existing green building standards, best practices, guidelines, other published materials and spoke with a focus group composed of representatives from various environmental groups, building professionals, code enforcement agencies, industry stakeholders and other interested parties.