CALGreen Changes Promise to Have Widespread Impact

If the new CALGreen requirements that went into effect on July 1, 2012 were not on your radar, there’s probably a good reason for that. Until recently, CALGreen – the first Adobe San JoseStatewide green building code – only applied to less than 10% of commercial construction projects. When CALGreen went into effect in 2010, it was primarily focused on new nonresidential construction projects, not commercial interior renovations, thus limiting the reach of the new code.

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In response, on July 1 of last year the California Building Commissioning made a subtle, but important change; they added Division 5.7, which covers additions and alterations to existing nonresidential buildings. The intent was to include a large portion of the state’s existing building stock that were previously exempt from the requirements; thus, extending the impact of the green building measures to a much larger percentage of construction projects. Since buildings account for 71% of California’s electricity consumption, extending the requirements could go a long way towards the Golden State’s goal to be the leader in overall energy and green house gas emissions reductions.

To provide the full detail, Division 5.7 of the new code states that all nonresidential projects with scope of work indicated as below shall comply with nonresidential mandatory measures:

  • Addition of 2,000 square feet or more, OR
  • Estimated construction cost of alteration more than $500,000

While there are still some small renovation projects that are exempt, the large majority of renovation projects are now required to comply with all CALGreen mandatory measures that relate to the interior.

To make things a little more difficult, determining which mandatory measures relate to the interior is still somewhat up to interpretation by each local building department and may differ on a project by project basis. For example, in a commercial high-rise building, CALGreen measures such as preferred parking for carpools would only apply to commercial interior renovations if the tenant decides to take parking in the building, otherwise the project is exempt from the requirements.

To provide another illustration, commercial interior renovations would not be required to comply with exterior light pollution requirement since the measure is outside of their scope; however, light pollution requirements that relate to the interior would still be applicable.

Despite the recent CALGreen updates to broaden the benefits of reduced greenhouse gas emissions, water use, and polluting chemicals and finish products, one challenge still remains – how to document CALGreen compliance across different jurisdictions. The language in the California Green Building code outlines the specific green building requirements that must be met, but it doesn’t provide guidance on how each requirement should be documented or verified. To that end, it’s still a learn-as-you go process with each building department, making a learning process that is now certain to apply to a much larger building stock with the inclusion of existing buildings under the new code.

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