CODE GREEN: NEW STATE RULES REGULATE CONSTRUCTION;
LAW TO REQUIRE DISCLOSURE OF ENERGY USE
This story by Robert Selna appeared Jan. 21, 2011 in the San Francisco Chronicle.
California is ushering in two significant green building initiatives this year that will change the way new structures are designed and function and require owners of existing buildings to disclose energy consumption records in real estate transactions.
With little fanfare, the state’s new building code and related provisions kicked in on Jan. 1. For the first time, the code includes specific green building requirements as well as optional alternatives for making structures even more environmentally sound.
Called CalGreen, the new provisions apply to residential and commercial buildings, and include mandates such as reducing water use, diverting construction waste from landfills, and inspecting buildings’ energy systems.
Separately, by midyear, new state legislation, AB1103, will require owners of commercial buildings to disclose their property’s energy consumption to buyers, lessees or lenders.
The changes are part of the state’s goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and reducing emissions to 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050.
“CalGreen and AB1103 are both very significant steps forward toward greening the built environment,” said Dan Geiger, executive director of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Northern California chapter. “CalGreen raises the base standards of building codes, and AB1103 is a powerful catalyst for market transformation. … It’s like a mileage gauge on your car. It will have marketing value.”
Many local jurisdictions, including San Francisco, already have building laws that are more environmentally stringent than the new state rules and expect to accommodate the changes with relative ease. But others, which either have not had the desire or the staffing to introduce their own green building codes, will have to adjust to the new requirements quickly.
Milder version of LEED
Experts consider CalGreen a less rigorous version of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, or LEED, a voluntary, private program widely seen as the industry standard for more environmentally sound buildings. It’s unclear how the presence of the new California guidelines will affect builders’ desire to strive for LEED standards — which they have used as a stamp of approval to expedite projects through city bureaucracies and charge higher rents.
CalGreen has about 50 mandatory provisions and gives builders the option of seeking more. LEED uses a checklist and point system for energy-efficient building designs. Both reward features such as low-flow water fixtures, bike storage, nontoxic paints and solar power.
Under LEED’s new construction rules, more points mean higher certification on a four-tiered ladder, from basic certified to platinum. To reach LEED’s basic level, a new building needs to have at least 40 points. For a building to meet the California code, it would need to earn the equivalent of 16 LEED points.
“CalGreen sets the floor, and LEED sets the ceiling,” said Phil Williams, vice president of Webcor Builders and chairman of former Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Green Building Task Force. “Like anything, you have to start somewhere, and 16 points is better than no points.”
Beyond minimum standards
Some observers have expressed concern that California’s new program will discourage developers from spending the money necessary to earn the more rigorous LEED standard. But Williams disagrees. He said LEED will maintain its value as a marketing tool, particularly for new office buildings.
“LEED has always represented something more than a legal (permitted) building,” Williams said. “And I still believe it has a cachet. … No one pays extra for just a code-compliant building, so it will still be seen as desirable to go above that.”
San Francisco, like several large metropolitan areas in the state, has a green building ordinance. In 2008, the city boosted its reputation as one of the nation’s most environmentally progressive cities when it approved an ordinance requiring that all new large commercial buildings be LEED certified.
In recent weeks, the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection has conducted trainings for plan reviews, field inspections and permitting on the state’s new green building requirements.
In addition to the new environmentally conscious building codes, by midyear the state will demand that the annual energy consumption of a building be disclosed when it is sold, leased or refinanced. The idea is that the marketplace will respond favorably and elevate the price of structures that save on energy bills.
Meanwhile, a San Francisco Board of Supervisors committee will review on Monday an ordinance that would require commercial building owners to provide annual public energy ratings. Owners also would have to undergo energy audits and file them with the city’s Department of the Environment.
Offering financial incentives
Starting in October, the rules would apply to commercial properties larger than 50,000 square feet. By 2013, they would affect all commercial properties 10,000 square feet or larger.
“There are about 30,000 commercial buildings in San Francisco, and new construction is only 1 percent of them at any given time, so if we’re going to be real about meeting greenhouse emissions targets and saving energy, there needs to be a financial incentive to upgrade the city’s existing building stock,” said Rich Chien, a green building coordinator at the Department of the Environment.
“This creates the financial incentive.”