2011…A ‘Green’ Time Bomb?

Sean Meehan, LEED AP

While fall may not feel like it is in the unseasonably warm air, the days continue to pass on the calendar and in just about three months we will ring in 2011.  While we are all hoping for a prosperous new year and continued revitalization in our industry, there is change looming on the horizon…the 2010 California Building Codes.

The new 2010 Codes take effect on January 1, 2011.  While the building and fire codes will change based on the International Code Council’s 2009 model code, the big news here is the California Green Building Standards Code, now commonly referred to as CALGreen.   CALGreen is the nation’s first ‘green’ building code, mandating prescribed sustainability measures for most new construction projects (including initial tenant improvements) that are permitted in the state, beginning on January 1st.  Are these new requirements going to blow up in the face of the design and construction industry?

At first glance, CALGreen looks a lot like LEED.  There are requirements related to planning, energy efficiency, water consumption, sustainable materials, construction waste, and air quality.  There are additional optional tiers above the mandatory measures, very similar to LEED’s optional silver, gold, etc.  However, municipalities have the option of adopting the more restrictive tiers as mandatory, and likely will do so in the future as California pursues its long-term energy and emissions goals.

There has been some criticism of CALGreen, but it does represent a clear step forward by incorporating sustainability into the Code itself.  Despite the popularity of the LEED system created by the USGB C, there are a number of other third party green building certification programs and guidelines out there, and some Cities and government agencies have even adopted their own green building standards.  This has created a somewhat confusing landscape to navigate.  A statewide code levels the playing field for all of the parties involved – designers, builders, owners, and municipalities.

While the CALGreen standards do differ from LEED in some ways, the additional costs will be similar.  Required calculations and documentation will increase design costs, while construction waste management, environmentally-friendly materials, and high-efficiency equipment will impact construction costs.  Another potential cost to the developer will be the additional time and effort required during plan review to ensure that the new requirements are properly addressed on the construction documents.

There will certainly be some growing pains in the new year, but ADMG is actively preparing for the CALGreen requirements and will be able to offer our clients a smooth transition as possible.  Think of us as your personal green bomb squad!

The Building Standards Commission has published a relatively concise PDF guide to the nonresidential requirements of the new CALGreen Code.  Check it out here.

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