Thursday, May 6, 2010

Less Than a Year Until New Green-Building Codes

By Sena Christian

Last year, California took a giant step forward in the state's effort to halt climate change and protect the natural environment when "the Governator" announced that the California Building Standards Commission unanimously adopted a mandatory Green Building Standards Code, called CALGREEN. This is the first code of its kind in the nation.

Next year, on January 1, 2011, the code will go into effect. This means we have less than a year to prepare our contractors, architects, engineers and other professionals to take on the challenge of green building in California. The code applies to newly constructed residential, commercial, schools and hospital buildings.

CALGREEN strives to improve public health, safety and the general welfare of California residents by requiring that all new buildings be more energy efficient and environmentally responsible. The regulations are intended to achieve major reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions, energy consumption and water use in an effort to meet the state's goal of curbing global warming and achieving 33 percent renewable energy by 2020. The code promotes sustainable construction in the following categories: planning and design; energy efficiency; water efficiency and conservation; material conservation and resource efficiency; and environmental quality.

CALGREEN will require that every new building reduce indoor water consumption by 20 percent, with voluntary goal standards set for 30, 35 and 40 percent. The code requires separate water meters for nonresidential buildings' indoor and outdoor water use, with a requirement for moisture-sensing irrigation systems for larger landscape projects. Under this code, there will be mandatory inspections of energy systems, such as a heat furnace, air conditioner and mechanical equipment for nonresidential buildings more than 10,000 square feet to guarantee the systems operate efficiently. It also requires that 50 percent of construction waste is diverted from landfills, increasing voluntarily to 65 and 75 percent for new homes and 80 percent for commercial projects. Additionally, the code requires the installation and use of low-emitting materials, such as paints, carpet and vinyl flooring.

The California Air Resources Board estimates that CALGREEN's mandatory provisions will reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 3 million metric tons by 2020.

You know what this means? More green-building jobs are headed California's way. If the state is going to design construction-smart, resource-efficient and eco-conscious buildings, it will need architects, contractors, engineers and others to be trained as LEED Accredited Professionals. LEED APs possess the ability and knowledge necessary to handle the complexities of sustainable design and construction projects. Or, professionals might want to train to become Environmental Specialists, who cover a wide range of responsibilities. They address problems associated with drinking and surface water quality, solid and hazardous waste storage and disposal, occupational health and system ecology. These specialists work in the fields of environmental management, public relations, landscaping and more.

Another green-building related profession includes Residential Green Building Specialists who assist homeowners and builders in creating eco-friendly houses. These specialists understand design, construction and operations elements, as well as material and product selection, waste management, building commissioning and more. Or, a professional might be interested in becoming a Green Infrastructure Specialist, who understands the connection between the built and natural environments. They're knowledgeable about best management practices for site assessment, streetscape, utilities, stormwater management, and landscape and construction practices.

California is the most populous state in the country. And with California leading the way on green building, it's likely other states will follow suit once they see the benefit of CALGREEN on job creation and halting climate change.

Sena Christian is an environmental reporter. She blogs for and

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