CALGREEN: California’s New Green Building Code

Beginning this January 1, 2011 California’s new Green Building Code, called CALGREEN, takes effect.  Like AB 32, California is the first state in the US to pass legislation to become “Greener”.  The goal of these new codes is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption and water use to create a greener and more environmentally friendly California.  According to the Govenator, “The code will help us meet our goals of curbing global warning and achieving 33 percent renewable energy by 2020 and promotes the development of more sustainable communities by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving energy efficiency in every new home, office building and public structure.

CALGREEN will require that every new building constructed in California will reduce water consumption by 20%, divert 50% of construction waste from landfills and be constructed of low pollutant-emitting materials.  It also requires separate water meters for nonresidential buildings’ indoor and outdoor water use, with a requirement for moisture-sensing irrigation systems for larger landscape projects and mandatory inspections of energy systems (e.g., heat furnace, air conditioner and mechanical equipment) for nonresidential buildings over 10,000 square feet to ensure that all are working at their maximum capacity and according to the design efficiencies.

Homeowner Operations & Maintenance Manuals Re-defined:

Importantly for community managers and builders the new law requires that “at the time of final inspection, a Homeowner Operations and Maintenance Manual (in hard-cover, CD, web-based reference or other media acceptable to the enforcing agency) which covers 10 specific subject areas, shall be placed in the building and stay with the building for its entire life, even through subsequent owners.

The Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) intends that the history of the maintenance and repairs of a home stay with the home in a way very similar to how CarFax keeps the history of a car available for future car purchasers to review upon demand, prior to purchase.  The end result of this requirement is that a builder can no longer give their new homebuyers a generic manual that describes generic maintenance (a la Handy Hammer) or put a bunch of warranties in the kitchen drawer and hope that the new homeowner can figure it all out.  The new code requires home specific maintenance and warranty guidance.

Builders are now required to give their homebuyer’s a manual that expressly describes the components that require maintenance in the home and instructions on how to maintain those components.  This is especially important when there are new green building components such as solar systems, gray water / rain-capture systems, HVAC systems and smart irrigation systems.  The code requires that the manual contains schedules to outline what maintenance is required by month.  This “Operations” section of the new Homeowner Operations and Maintenance Manual is critical to ensure that all of the home’s components perform in the “greenest” way possible and achieve their full life expectancy.

Mo Green is Mo Better

Upon passing state building inspection, California’s property owners will have the ability to label their facilities as CALGREEN compliant without using additional costly third-party certification programs such as LEED, Green Builder or Build it Green.

The new code does, however, include more stringent voluntary provisions to encourage local communities (read Berkeley) to take further green action.  CALGREEN provides two additional tiers of voluntary standards that may be adopted by local governments or used to certify projects as CALGREEN I or II.

The new codes will be inspected and verified by local and state building departments.  CALGREEN will use the current enforcement infrastructure that the state has established to enforce its health, safety, fire, energy and structural building codes.

It would be impractical to think that the cost of this extensive regulation will reduce the cost of new homes in California.  But, rational Californian’s must hold out hope that in the long-run not only will the building industry have gotten out “in-front” of the environmentalist’s premier issue (Green), but that the savings in energy and utility costs will somehow translate into better sales and only modest “hard” cost increases.

Not surprisingly the National Governor’s Association recently announced that energy-efficient codes and similar green strategies may soon be adopted by Colorado, Hawaii, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin.

Click here to read the new law

Click here to view a synopsis of the new law’s codes

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