Photography by Ragina Johnson
Have you been undecided about whether to jump into the world of green building? Have you been concerned about additional project costs, owner acceptance, personal time, and the expense of learning green building concepts? Have the complexities of processing a LEED®, CHPS, or Green Globes® project delayed your entry? With the adoption of the new CALGreen 2010 Green Building Standards Code, the State of California has made the decision for you. The new code is going to require green building measures for all new buildings. For those who have been involved in green building for some time, the new building code provisions will not be surprising. But they will change the way design and construction is practiced in California—most have argued for the better, though not everyone fully agrees.
If you are unfamiliar with the new code, it is the result of a directive from the Governor to the California Building Standards Commission (CBSC) to comply with the requirements of AB32 (Global Warming Solutions Act) and Executive Orders S-06-08 and S-20-04, both of which seek to provide for more sustainable building practices, reduce water use, reduce grid electric power consumption by buildings, and reduce green house gas emissions. While these two executive orders were directed at State-owned facilities, it was clear that they would be extended to private sector construction. AB32 requires reduction of green house gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, about a 25% reduction from current levels. The CBSC undertook an extensive process in developing the new code by partnering with a number of State agencies, task groups, and industry focus groups. It also studied existing, voluntary, green building rating systems including CHPS, LEED®, ASHRAE 189P, and Build-it-Green, among others. The new CALGreen Code represents a major revision of the 2008 California Green Building Standards Code, most of whose provisions were voluntary. Significant new standards affecting design, construction, and cost are present in the new code.
All of this comes with some criticism. Much has already been published about how CALGreen compares to existing third party green building rating systems. I believe no one is entirely happy with it. Even as the code was being printed into law, the California State Chamber of Commerce and the oil industry, among others, are seeking to delay AB32 implementation until the economy recovers significantly. While this effort against AB32 does not change the implementation of the new code, it may affect the thinking of many in the construction industry that, with a very weak building market, now is not the time to significantly raise the requirements and expense for new building projects.
There are other organizations and individuals who do not believe that the code goes far enough toward making buildings more sustainable or that it is confusing in the way it is written and how it will be enforced. Criticisms have risen from some sectors of the existing green building industry and communities who feel that it will fall short of specific earthfriendly goals, including the AIA’s 2030 Challenge. These criticisms focus on five areas:
Is It Stringent Enough?
The new code was criticized for not being stringent enough to make a difference in climate change efforts. The CBSC has responded by pointing out that the California Air Resources Board estimates that the mandatory provisions of the new code will reduce green house gas emissions by 3 million metric tons in 2020. However, the mandatory requirement is only to meet the existing CEC minimum standards. The code states that green buildings should seek to achieve savings of 15% below this minimum standard, but at this time doing so is still voluntary. As an example of greater performance requirements, LEED® requires a minimum of 10% better performance than the current energy standards.
Do Jurisdictions Have the Requisite Expertise?
The next criticism suggests that State and local jurisdictions do not have the technical expertise to verify whether builders are in compliance. In response, the CBSC says they will utilize the long-standing enforcement infrastructure that is used to enforce other building codes. In addition, they state that, unlike most private green building programs, the new code requires inspection in the field to ensure compliance, and property owners will not have to pay additional fees for certification.
Having practiced as a LEED AP and Green Building Professional for the last seven years, it is clear to me that some local building officials will lack the technical expertise to enforce many of the new mandatory standards. The CBSC has indicated the intent to educate local code officials before the code goes into effect in January 2011. Yet, while it is currently conducting introductory workshops statewide, it has not developed a clear plan for the training of local officials. I foresee uneven enforcement for the next several years. Many smaller building departments contract with private-sector plan checkers to review submissions for which they lack the technical expertise or have insufficient staffing to check. There is a potential market for these same agencies to hire private sector reviewers to assist with the review of the new green building standards.
It is true that the code will not require additional fees for building certification. However, in the context of overall cost, fees for LEED® certification are typically less than 0.1% of the total construction budget.
Will There Be Confusion In the Marketplace?
Another criticism of the new code is that the CALGreen label and the tier structure will create market confusion with other third-party verification systems. The State counters this statement by pointing out that the CALGreen moniker was established to distinguish the Green Building Standards Code from other building codes. The tier structure was established to provide local jurisdictions with tools for creating additional standards to provide market continuity.
The CALGreen 2010 Green Building Standards Code is simply another section in the overall Title 24 building code. It creates additional minimum standards for building compliance. The tier structure, located in the voluntary portion of the code, outlines a group of standardized green building electives that local jurisdictions can choose from if they desire to establish local standards greater than the mandatory provisions. This program looks very similar to the LEED® Bookshelf developed by USGBC, wherein specific credits are the same across multiple rating systems to create continuity in the application of the credit. The tier structure should be viewed as a laundry list of specific measures that communities can use to establish local standards.
Will There Be Conflicts with Existing Municipal Green Building Programs?
It has been argued that the new code will significantly impact some California cities that already have their own green building programs. In an interview for the USGBC News, an information section on the organization’s website, Dave Walls, the Executive Director of California’s Building Standards Commission, points out that, “California is a very large and diverse state, and there will be a number of jurisdictions that choose to not go beyond minimum code.”
Many cities have already adopted standards for public and private construction, including requirements for LEED® Certification, that exceed the CALGreen mandatory provisions. Currently, even the State requires LEED® Silver Certification for all new State projects in excess of 10,000 square feet.
How Will Contractor Means and Methods Be Handled?
Some of the mandatory provisions include measures that go beyond simple building requirements and cover areas of contractor means and methods. One example is Section 5.408, “Construction Waste Reduction, Disposal and Recycling.” The code requires development of a plan for reduction of construction waste and diversion of waste to recycling. Contractor means and methods are typically areas that architects have avoided so as to limit liability. Yet, traditionally, the courts have held that the contractor is not an expert on the building code. Since this new code contains several stions that will affect means and methods, it will be incumbent on architects and engineers to find ways to include provisions in their specifications to direct the contractor to required activities while leaving them free to determine their own method of achieving the standards. Dave Walls indicated that the CBSC is aware of these aspects of the code and is working to develop documentation and direction to clarify how these measures will be handled.
Looking Ahead, Getting Prepared
The CALGreen code significantly raises basic building standards to a greener level. While the new code was not designed to achieve certification in any of the third-party green building certification systems, those who have been active in the development of projects seeking LEED® Certification will find that many additional credits and prerequisites are now a part of the building code.
I recommend that you obtain a copy of the CALGreen 2010 Green Building Standards Code and begin reviewing it now. A prepublication draft can be downloaded from the CBSC’s website. Also, the CBSC is currently conducting introductory programs around the state. There is, as well, an intra-organizational effort bringing together the AIACC, the USGBC Northern California Chapter, and Build It Green, among others. Together, they are developing educational tools for outreach to local officials and construction professionals that will assist in implementing the new code requirements. _