Saturday, February 5, 2011

California Leads in Green Building Policies

Big Sur, CaliforniaImage by the_tahoe_guy via FlickrBy Valerie Jenkins

The State of California established itself as a leader in energy policy with groundbreaking climate legislation, the first Low Carbon Fuel Standard and aggressive Renewable Portfolio Standards. The State continues on the path of supporting and incentivizing improvements in energy efficiency with two measures taking effect in 2011. First, California's Green Building Standards Code (CalGreen), which took effect on January 1, 2011, requires all new buildings to meet more stringent environmental and energy efficiency standards. Second, Assembly Bill 1103 (AB1103) mandates the disclosure of commercial building energy consumption data to buyers, lenders and lessees.


CalGreen is part of the California Energy Code and represents a significant first step towards making green building part of the mainstream construction business. The code seeks to reduce the environmental impact of both residential and commercial buildings and applies to all new construction.

For residential buildings, the new code regulates five areas: planning and design; energy efficiency; water efficiency and conservation; material conservation and resource efficiency; and environmental quality. The California Energy Commission (CEC) establishes the mandatory requirements for energy efficiency. However, the California Building Standards Commission emphasizes that the CEC believes that truly green buildings ought to achieve 15% energy savings in comparison with the state-mandated energy efficiency standards.

For commercial buildings, CalGreen identifies four regulatory subjects: planning and design; energy efficiency; water efficiency and conservation; and material conservation and resource efficiency. CalGreen requires that new buildings reduce water consumption by 20%, divert 50% of construction waste from landfills, and use materials that emit minimal pollutants, among a myriad of other provisions.

Some parties have raised concerns about the possibility that CalGreen will discourage the use of more exacting standards like Leaders in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). However, as Phil Williams, vice president of Webcor Builders and chairman the Green Building Task Force puts it, "CalGreen sets the floor and LEED sets the ceiling... you have to start somewhere."


The California State legislature passed AB 1103 in 2007, mandating energy benchmarking and disclosure for non-residential buildings. The CEC is responsible for implementing the provisions of AB1103 and current draft regulations require compliance beginning in 2011. Under the provisions of AB1103 commercial building owners will have to disclose a building's energy data and the energy rating of the previous year to prospective buyers of the property, lessees and lenders financing the building.

Legislators designed AB1103 to place a value on energy consumption in commercial real estate transactions and to motivate building owners and property managers to improve energy efficiency performance. CEC mechanical engineer Martha Brook stated that AB1103 seeks to create "commercial valuation of energy usage" in the same way that square-footage is valued.

CalGreen and AB1103 have the potential to interact and create powerful synergies. The combination of higher basic standards and growing awareness and availability of data surrounding the energy efficiency performance ought to bring energy usage to the top of building owners' priority lists.

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1 comment:

  1. Nice post, it seems as though California building construction companies are more than willing to adhere to these new CALGreen codes. From what I have been reading there are a ton of companies that can make abiding by these codes fast and easy. Many cities in California have been following similar codes anyway so these codes shouldn't be too much of a shocker. This is a really interesting post that I definitely want to learn more about. I typically check out McGraw Hill's California Construction site when I want to find out more on topics like this one. It has a ton of valuable information on similar issues. While I occasionally work with McGraw Hill, they have been a favorite construction resource of mine long before we started working together. If you are like me and enjoy staying current on construction news happening around California, check out the McGraw Hill website.