Posting in Architecture
SmartPlanet's resident expert on architecture and construction takes a look at CalGreen, the new California state green building code. Will California go green faster than anyone else?
If it’s a groundbreaking new environmental rule, it’s got to be from California.
No, I’m not talking about the contentious cap-and-trade rule unveiled last week. Just as important for slashing greenhouse-gas emissions is CalGreen, a.k.a. the California Green Building Standards Code, which took effect early this year. One of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s last big moves, it’s the first statewide green building code in the country, and its reach will ultimately affect most new and refurbished buildings there.
In a recent twist, Gov. Jerry Brown has thrown his political capital behind the law. Early this month he signed a new bill to bolster the green building rules: AB 930 now requires at least one member of the state’s powerful Building Standards Commission (BSC) to, um, actually know something about sustainable design, construction and facility operations.
I’d say that’s a good idea. And in spite of ongoing and at times vehement opposition, I’d say CalGreen is a good thing, too. Experts peg the reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions at 3 million metric tons -- all by 2020, and all by way of CalGreen. And if history teaches us anything, CalGreen is coming to a building department near you.
Here’s why: The knocks to CalGreen aren’t coming from architects, engineers or even construction executives. They get work applying the rules. Instead, it’s coming from knee-jerk anti-government types on one hand and, on the other, from green-building advocates. The greenies complain that the new code is flawed and even worse, redundant. We already have national certification programs, they say, like the U.S. Green Building Council’s popular but expensive LEED rating system.
Overlapping green programs
Point well taken. Add to LEED and municipal initiatives the International Green Construction Code, coming in 2012 from the powerful International Code Council, which controls all U.S. code language. Then we have also-rans like Green Globes, a program originally launched by forestry executives and homebuilders.
Wait, there’s more. Before CalGreen, San Francisco was already living large with BIG, the Build It Green program, which has tried to promote its GreenPoint rating system for homes beyond the Bay Area. Another is California Advanced Homes Program, created by the big three utilities Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric and set to expire next December. Last, the CHPS program isn’t for motorbike-riding cops but rather the successful Collaborative for High-Performance Schools initiative.
So maybe CalGreen is redundant -- but not because of its peer group. “California already has the strictest energy conservation code in the country,” said Imad Naffa, a code consultant in Fresno, Calif., “and compliance with the energy code will ensure compliance with the majority of CalGreen’s requirements.”
Title 24: Stepping stone for Calgreen?
Known widely as Title 24, the state’s Energy Efficiency Standards for buildings have already made the Golden State’s building stock by far the greenest of any state.
Which brings me to my main point: Title 24 has become hugely influential, adopted around the country by government agencies, housing boards, manufacturers, and local jurisdictions. It became an easy benchmark and implementation model. Many building codes already bear the West Coast stamp, among the first sweeping energy policies of the modern era, launched in 1978.
CalGreen will likely grow in influence this way, too. Wisely, California’s BSC has made it more than a building code -- CalGreen is also positioned as a marketable green-building rating system, like LEED. Buildings that comply get a CalGreen stamp of approval, which should boost rents and property values.
We’ll see CalGreen reach into even states with very different politics and environmental goals. Using the same web of influence spun by Title 24, CalGreen is poised for real and lasting impact.
Oct 26, 2011
The fact is, ALL standards represent only the basic requirements, and do not consider good design at all. The critical question is, are the standards practical, attactive and affordable? People stay up nights figuring how to circumvent unwanted or impractical energy restrictions. To give equal points to a bicycle rack and replaced switchgear just doesn't make sense, any more than equating winter weather in Florida and Minnesota.
According to WolframAlpha ( http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?_=1319777685713&i=greenhouse+gas+emissions&fp=1&incTime=true ), the world economies create 18.18 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. Now, the article says CalGreen will save 3 million metric tons by 2020. It's not clear how much that is per year, but it is clear that this is a tiny, tiny percent of total world greenhouse gas output. It won't really make any difference except give a few government bureaucrats and a few greens like Mr. Sullivan the false impression that they are "doing good". So the real question is, how much will this cost? I don't know about California, but I live in Boulder, CO. They just adopted rules that will require each landlord to spend between $5,000 and $10,000 per unit in improvements similar to CalGreen. It won't make any difference to global warming but it certainly will increase rents. Boulder city government also wanted to require the same modifications by homeowners, but they realized that homeowners live in Boulder and they have a lot more votes than landlords. Even in Boulder reality sometimes intrudes on fantasies. I hope California will also come to its senses.
I'm all for improved building standards. And if there is any industry that is resistant to technological change, it's construction. My problem is that more often than not, the standards imposed have poor cost to benefit ratios. They tend to benefit bureaucracies and vendors of favored products more than the ultimate owners of the homes. I've also always been amused that the politicians who will support nearly any expensive change in building standards are usually the same ones who bemoan the dearth of supposedly "affordable" housing. And unfortunately, relatively few renters realize that they ultimately end up paying for such mandates as well through higher rents.