GUEST POST: California is on Cutting Edge for Green Building Regulations

Compliance with the newest California Building Standards Code, also known as the California Green Code, or simply as CALGreen, became mandatory on Jan. 1, 2011. The need for green construction methods has grown so substantially in past years that it sparked the creation performance bonds, even though there is still a legislation battle holding up their passage. This just further indicates how progressive California is in its green building requirements. A dream of Governor Schwarzenegger’s since 2004, seven years later his vision has become a reality. To date, California is the first state in the country to enact such a comprehensive plan for a more environmentally responsible building code.

CALGreen regulations govern all new building construction projects. Private, low-rise residential properties, and public commercial buildings must meet these new standards. Homes, schools, retail stores, medical buildings and office complexes are examples of new construction that must pass specific requirements to be labeled “CALGreen compliant.” At this time, retrofits, repairs, additions and remodels are excluded from the list. Federal buildings and new construction on land owned by Native Americans are also exempt.

In 2004, when Governor Schwarzenegger issued an executive order to find ways to “green” the state government buildings, his intent was to provoke a broadband environmental response to the much-publicized concerns about global warming and climate change. The matter did not stop there. In 2008, after completing the usual 3-year upgrade of building codes, the California Building Standards Commission (CBSC) was approached by the administration with a request to develop a comprehensive new set of green codes that would be uniform and consistent across the state.

Lowering California’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020 represents eliminating the equivalent of 3 million tons of CO2 and has been one of the primary goals of this law. In fact, some mandatory caps are scheduled to take effect as early as 2012. Other directives aim to reduce construction wastes in landfills by 50 percent through expanded recycling efforts, better site selection and careful post-construction cleanup. More-efficient plumbing procedures and equipment should lower water usage in residential buildings another 20 percent. Better irrigating techniques and monitoring will reduce landscape watering waste by 50 percent as well. Water meters will be installed both inside and outside of nonresidential buildings.

Indoor air quality is another targeted area. By reducing the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in building materials such as floors, carpets and paint, CALGreen codes encourage residents and employees to enjoy better health, less medical expenses and more productivity. To curb wasteful expenditure of natural resources, mandatory evaluations that measure the efficiency of HVAC systems are also included.

CALGreen has not been without opposition. Hundreds of builders, engineers and architects wrote Governor Schwarzenegger to protest what they felt was an unrealistic and unnecessary policy demand. Many doubted the veracity of the issue of global warming and climate change, which sparked this response in the first place. Others felt that consistent implementation, documentation and verification would be difficult if not impossible. There was concern about potential conflict with other third-party rating systems such as LEED.

At a time when California was already struggling financially, the proposal of increased training expense was also unwelcome.

Despite strong criticism, CALGreen was passed unanimously in 2010. According to Tom Sheehy, chair of the Building Standards Commission, this new legislation will “integrate green construction practices into the very fabric of the construction code.” He believes that California will usher in a brand new era of greener communities through these policies. How well the rest of the nation follows California’s lead remains to be seen.

Alex Levin is a digital marketer for several nationwide surety bond agencies. As he’s an expert on advising contractors through the construction bond process, he often writes about construction news and legislative developments.

Photo: darkmatter