CALGreen: Mandatory Green Building Standards Take Effect in 2011

California Green BuildingCalifornia’s first-in-the-nation set of mandatory green building standards for new construction is slated to take effect on January 1, 2011. Referred to officially as the California Green Building Standards Code, CALGreen applies to all new public and privately-constructed commercial and residential buildings. Integrated within the state’s Building Standards Code, it includes a matrix of mandatory requirements as well as two sets of voluntary measures tailored to residential and non-residential building classifications.


Among the key mandatory provisions are requirements that new buildings constructed in California:

  1. reduce indoor potable water use by at least 20% below current standards;
  2. recycle or salvage at least 50% of construction waste;
  3. utilize low VOC-emitting finish materials and flooring systems;
  4. install separate water meters tracking non-residential buildings’ indoor and outdoor water use;
  5. utilize moisture-sensing irrigation systems for larger landscape areas;
  6. receive mandatory inspections by local officials of building energy systems, such as HVAC and mechanical equipment, to verify performance in accordance with specifications in non-residential buildings exceeding 10,000 square feet; and
  7. earmark parking for fuel-efficient and carpool vehicles.

These requirements go into effect on January 1, 2011, with the exception of the water use reductions, which kick in on July 1, 2011. The consensus among industry commentators seems to be that the mandatory provisions will not substantially increase building costs.

The optional provisions, “CALGreen Tier 1” and “CALGreen Tier 2,” enumerate a host of more stringent sustainable building practices and features. (By way of example, the ratio of recycled construction waste increases from 50% under the mandatory provisions to 65% under Tier 1 and to 75% for Tier 2). Both tiers include a detailed list of green building features within categories addressing energy efficiency, water efficiency, waste reduction, material conservation and indoor air quality. The voluntary standards provide a preview of likely mandatory standards in future updates to CALGreen. In fact, many of the current mandatory provisions were floated in 2008 as voluntary measures.

Municipalities can elect to incorporate Tier 1 and/or Tier 2 into their local building standards as mandatory or voluntary measures. A local government proposing to amend the mandatory provisions based on climatic, topographical or geological conditions or to adopt one of the tiers as a mandatory standard must justify each modification in the form of proscribed “findings” filed with the California Building Standards Commission.

Buildings which meet the applicable provisions can be labeled as “CALGreen Certified,” “CALGreen Tier 1 Certified,” or “CALGreen Tier 2 Certified,” as appropriate. The idea is to provide a certifiable green standard in the marketplace that does not require third-party verification and the attendant costs. This aspect has been criticized in some circles as creating potential confusion in the marketplace between CALGreen and established private sustainability standards, such as LEED and GreenPoint.

Among the concerns is that the CALGreen standards may be less rigorous and, therefore, discourage the adoption of more stringent certification programs. In reality, however, CALGreen does not prevent local jurisdictions from enacting stricter requirements. The mandatory provisions provide a baseline that municipalities are free to exceed. Many local agencies, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, have already specified LEED as the governing building standard. A clear advantage of CALGreen is that it imposes sustainable building requirements and provides optional provisions for smaller jurisdictions that may lack the resources or the political will to devise their own sustainable building programs.

Among the questions that remain to be answered are the extent to which municipalities go beyond the mandatory provisions and adopt the voluntary Tier 1 and Tier 2 standards as local requirements and whether the CALGreen label attains caché in the marketplace. One indication of the latter will be whether projects voluntarily comply with the higher standards rather than pursuing third-party certification programs, such as LEED, that may require a higher degree of sustainability.