CALGreen. It’s finally here. Now what?

Originally posted 2011-11-18 14:56:46. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Naffa InternationalFor this week’s Guest Post Friday, Musings welcomes Imad Naffa. Imad is the Founder and President ofNAFFA International, a private Building Code Services firm in Fresno, CA. He is also the Developer and Administrator of the Building Code Discussions Group (BCDG), one of the largest building code online communities on the internet with 23,000+ members from 100+ countries.

You can also find him on the web where he posts on topics dealing with Building, Fire and Accessibility /ADA codes, housing and construction; along with news relating to design, construction, LEED/Green/CALGreen and Global Affairs.

You can follow Imad on Twitter (@imadnaffa). If you have technical questions related to Building, Fire, Accessibility/ADA Codes or CALGreen, Imad would be happy to respond byemail.


Every three years, the building codes are updated. That in by itself is always a challenging time for all involved in the building permitting process (Owners/Developers, Design Team and the Code Enforcement Community).

In California a new family of building codes, known as the 2010 California Codes, became effective throughout the state on January 1st, 2011.

This time around, a brand new code known as the “2010 California Green Building Standards Code”, aka “CALGreen”, was introduced. This code is Part 11, of the California Code of Regulations, Title 24. It is the nation’s first statewide green building standards code and applies to newly constructed residential and nonresidential occupancies.

CALGreen stems from former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mandate to reduce greenhouse gases in California. Estimates predict a reduction of 3 million metric tons of greenhouse gases by 2020 as a result of the requirements of CALGreen.

CALGreen creates uniform and consistent environmental regulations for new California buildings, but it is not meant to replace individual jurisdictions’ environmental programs and ordinances. The Code requires that all local environmental ordinances still be followed. Local jurisdictions also have the ability to amend portions of the Code based on a finding of need due to climate, topography, or geology. Complementary sustainability programs, such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (“LEED”), may still be used as long as they do not interfere with CALGreen requirements. Some jurisdictions in California had their own Green Codes before CALGreen came about.

Among other things, CALGreen goals are:

  • Reduce construction waste;
  • Make buildings more efficient in the use of materials and energy; and
  • Reduce environmental impact during and after construction.

Only new construction is subject to the mandatory provisions of CALGreen; remodels, retrofits and additions are not affected. Residential buildings subject to CALGreen include buildings that are three stories or less, including motels, hotels, apartments, and one-and two-family dwellings. Nonresidential buildings subject to the Code include state-owned buildings, state university, and community college buildings, and privately owned buildings used for retail, office, and medical services.

The Code includes requirements for site selection, storm water control during construction, construction waste reduction, indoor water use reduction, material selection, natural resource conservation, site irrigation conservation and more. Significant documentation of compliance with these mandatory provisions is required.he Code provides sample compliance forms and worksheets, which may be acceptable or required by the local building department.

Commissioning, a process for the verification that all building systems (heating, cooling, lighting, etc.) are functioning at their maximum efficiency, is also required for certain buildings.

In addition to the mandatory requirements, the Code includes Tier 1 and Tier 2 provisions. These are voluntary measures that a building may choose to comply with for even greater efficiencies than those called for in the mandatory requirements, with the Tier 2 provisions being the most efficient.

CALGreen Mandatory Provisions

The mandatory minimum provisions in CALGreen have elements that go above and beyond a typical building department’s role and may require additional training, and likely special inspections and/or increased fees. To help in interpreting and enforcing CALGreen mandatory provisions, California’s Housing and Community Development Dept. (HCD) released A Guide to the California Green Building Standards for Low-Rise Residential, and a similar guide to the nonresidential. These documents are a key first step providing guidance and documentation helpful to the enforcement of the mandatory provisions in CALGreen.

CALGreen Tiers

In addition to the mandatory measures in CALGreen, the code also includes two voluntary packages of above-minimum green practices, called “Tiers.” The Tiers include all the mandatory CALGreen measures plus additional required practices (prerequisites), with a further requirement to choose a set number of optional measures from lists. Unlike the mandatory provisions of the code, the CALGreen Tier structure and associated provisions are a work-in-progress that requires additional definition and interpretation before they can be implemented and verified consistently across regional boundaries. While the HCD and California Building Standards Commission (CBSC) have provided guides to CALGreen that address the mandatory provisions, these guides provide little guidance on implementation and verification of the Tiers. Until a guide is developed for the Tiers, the burden of defining and verifying the Tiers is assumed by the local enforcing agency, which will need to allocate sufficient resources to ensure proper compliance. In addition, if the Tiers are adopted by a jurisdiction, the growing number of projects that utilize third-party rating systems—either as a requirement or voluntarily—may incur costly and duplicative documentation and verification procedures, resulting in the unintended consequence of discouraging rating systems, and diminishing a key reward for exemplary performance.


As an engineering company that specializes in the plan review process and building code consultations for dozens of building departments in California, a part of our plan review process will be checking for compliance with CALGreen. I’ve stated in the past, that for green and sustainable construction to take a foothold, it had to be incorporated in the codes and not simply be a voluntary process. Well now we have that in California. The green related provisions are in the code and we have to deal with them from this point on.

For the design and construction community, confusion remains. What is expected of them is being asked even today. Many training opportunities have been offered to the design and code enforcement sectors throughout the state, but now it’s the real thing. How to comply. What needs to be done!

What do the plans and specifications have to show. What about the inspection process? Who will do what and will there be a need for third-party inspections and verifications.

At a time when building departments are stretched to the limit with depleted resources, drastically reduced budgets and personnel, the new adopted codes in general, and CALGreen specifically, will test the system in a grand scale.

From the plan review side, most of the requirements will be dealt with through forms and notes that will need to be added to the drawings and specifications.

California already has the strictest energy conservation code in the country and compliance with the energy code will ensure compliance with the majority of CALGreen’s requirements.

The building departments will provide most of the verification through the inspection process. Buildings larger than 10,000 sf will have to deal with the commissioning process, which may be the greatest challenge in complying with CALGreen. Third-party inspection/review entities will step in to fill the gaps where the local jurisdictions are not able to provide the service. Additional costs for the owner will undoubltly be incurred.

Only time will determine if the CALGreen Code lives up to the expectations stake holders had for it.

As with any new code, there will be an adjustment period in the beginning that lasts about six months where the design, construction and code enforcement communities get used to the new code and what is expected from each party. This will be no different.

Additional Resources and Tips

1. The state maintains a site dedicated to CALGreen FAQs. Designers and Code Officials should be familiar with that site.

2. 2010 California Green Building Standards Code.

3. The Building Code Discussions Group (BCDG) a technical forum of building code-related Q&A has a dedicated forum for CALGreen and Green-related topics. News, checklists, resources, technical code-related discussions by experts and more can be found on that site.

4. For the transition period, the design team should be proactive in soliciting input and interpretations from the local jurisdictions regarding their expectations of what is required (forms, documentation, notations and the inspection/verification process) for CALGreen compliance.

As always, Imad and I welcome your comments below. Please subscribe to keep up with this and other Guest Post Fridays at Construction Law Musings.

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