Monday, May 10, 2010

CALGreen and LEEDS

I do not know if CALGreen is adding fuel to the fire that is currently the AB 32 debate in California, but back in January 2010 the California Building Standard Commission passed an amendment to the building code to create a state wide green building code in California to go into effect in January 2011. This green building code is known as CALGreen. The CALGREEN Code applies to all residential, commercial, hospital and school buildings, ensuring that every new building in California is built using environmentally advanced construction practices. While a mandatory code will allow California’s builders to build to a certifiable green standard without having to pay fees for third-party programs, compliance with the new standards will add to the cost of construction and difficulty in getting new housing permitted. This will increase both the volatility and ultimately cost of housing in California.

Various municipalities, such as San Francisco and Berkeley have mandated that new construction be LEED certified or in other ways “green” this is the first state wide standard for green building. If you recall, under AB32, California must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020, returning them to 1990 levels. The mandatory CALGREEN code provisions will be inspected and verified by local and state building departments, who will have to be trained in the new standards (no doubt under stimulus funds for green jobs). This initiative is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and conserve water, by incorporating a set of environmental standards into the existing building code. Buildings in California account for one-quarter of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. The California Air Resources Board estimates that CALGREEN will avoid 3 million metric tons of CO2 equivalents in 2020 which is 5.6% of the reduction necessary to meet the goal. It will also reduce water use by 20% and divert 50% of construction waste to landfills. CALGreen requires:

20% mandatory reduction in indoor water use, with voluntary goal standards for 30%, 35% and 40% reductions;
Separate water meters for nonresidential buildings’ indoor and outdoor water use, with a requirement for moisture-sensing irrigation systems for larger landscape projects;
Diversion of 50% of construction waste from landfills, increasing voluntarily to 65% and75% for new homes and 80% for commercial projects;
Mandatory inspections of energy systems (i.e. heat furnace, air conditioner, mechanical equipment) for nonresidential buildings over 10,000 square feet to ensure that all are working at their maximum capacity according to their design efficiencies;
Low-pollutant emitting interior finish materials such as paints, carpet, vinyl flooring and particle board.

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) currently offers a set of voluntary green building standards known as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) by far the most popular and well-known green building certification program in the nation. LEED operates as a point-based certification system, where building developers can reach the Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum levels of ‘greenness’ in different ways hopefully appropriate to the local conditions. While the LEEDS point-based system allows flexibility for building developers, it has been criticized for allowing too much freedom in choice. Also, LEED certification requires an investment of money to pay for third party verification and periodic verifications. The CALGreen standards will be part of the building inspection process, the cost to train and implement born by the taxpayer instead of the builder and buyer. California could well end up like Europe, with laws to prevent new construction and expansion of existing home footprints.

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