Executive Summary:

The California Building Code update effective January 1, 2011 has new mandatory green building measures for all new construction. It is the first statewide mandatory green building standard and has been labeled CALGREEN. There are implementation issues with the new code provisions. Many jurisdictions already have their own local green building ordinances which the code does not easily readdress.

An analysis to assess the impact of CALGREEN and its alternatives has been commissioned by the City of San Francisco assisted by the Green Building Codes Educational Collaborative. The initial findings of this comparative analysis study should be ready in June 2010 and should be useful for officials and the design/construction community in determining the implementation of CALGREEN. More info on the study can be found atwww.usgbc-ncc.org

Training on CALGREEN is now available from the private and public sector. As professionals and officials, we need to stay informed, get trained and help build a better future.


The purpose of this article is to address some of the current confusion and misunderstandings over the new green building code which has new mandatory and new voluntary provisions. Buildings in the United States are responsible for 39 percent of CO2 emissions, 40 percent of energy consumption, 13 percent water consumption and 15 percent of GDP per year, making green building a source of significant environmental opportunity.

NEW CODE Effective January 1, 2011, the next update of the Title 24 California Building Code will take effect.  It requires all new buildings to incorporate more environmental sustainability green building measures into new construction. The sustainability measures adopted in January 2010 by the California Buildings Standards Commission have been labeled CALGREEN.

CALGREEN is the first statewide mandatory green building code standard in the nation and is projected to significantly help California reach AB 32 goals. The previous California Green Building Code only had voluntary requirements. The California Air Resources Board estimates that the mandatory provisions will reduce greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 equivalent) by 3 million metric tons in 2020

Mandatory Minimum Requirements:

The 2010 Green Building Standards Code will require:

  • 20 percent mandatory reduction in indoor water use, with voluntary goal standards for 30, 35 and 40 percent reductions;
  • Separate water meters for nonresidential buildings’ indoor and outdoor water use, with a requirement for moisture-sensing irrigation systems for larger landscape projects;
  • Diversion of 50 percent of construction waste from landfills, increasing voluntarily to 65 and 75 percent for new homes and 80 percent for commercial projects;
  • Mandatory inspections of energy systems (i.e. heat furnace, air conditioner, mechanical equipment) for nonresidential buildings over 10,000 square feet to ensure that all are working at their maximum capacity according to their design efficiencies;
  • Low-pollutant emitting interior finish materials such as paints, carpet, vinyl flooring and particle board.

The CALGREEN Code is a comprehensive and uniform regulatory code for all residential, commercial, hospital and school buildings.

Voluntary Requirements:

The CALGREEN code provisions raise the floor for minimum sustainable and efficient buildings.  CALGREEN also allows local jurisdictions the opportunity to voluntarily adopt higher green standards beyond these code prescriptive minimums.

CALGREEN provides two higher levels of voluntary adoption labeled CALGREEN Tier I and CALGREEN Tier II in an attempt to provide a uniform higher green building code statewide if all jurisdictions adopt these provisions. Each tier adds a further set of green building measures that go above and beyond the mandatory measures of the Code. There are separate but similar sets of tiers for residential and commercial buildings.

In both tiers, buildings will use less energy than the current Title 24 California Energy Code. Tier I buildings achieve at least a 15% improvement and Tier 2 buildings are to achieve a 30% improvement. Both tiers require additional non-energy prerequisites, as well as a certain number of elective measures in each green building category (energy efficiency, water efficiency, resource conservation, indoor air quality and community).

If a local government chooses to go beyond the baseline Code by adopting one of the tiers, it will be up to each city to decide whether the tier will be voluntary or mandatory, and how the additional measures will be enforced.

Discussion of the Voluntary Tier Provisions:

There are issues with the Tier I and II categories that may be stumbling blocks in implementation.

Proponents say adopting the CALGREEN voluntary tiers will

  • Provide a uniform higher green building standard for all jurisdictions since most jurisdictions do not have the capacity to develop their own ordinances;
  • Provide a defined certainty for building owners on how to get a green certification label with defined prescriptive methodology written in familiar code language.
  • Provide a more inexpensive method of getting a green certification label than current third party point rating systems.
  • Provide better compliance since building inspectors will verify all work before occupancy

Critics say adopting the CALGREEN voluntary tiers will

  • Provide less uniformity since the code allows local jurisdictions to vary
  • Provide more uncertainty for building owners since this iteration of the code has conflicting and vague language for the compliance path subject to local interpretations
  • Provide buildings with green labels that will not be as environmentally sustainable or energy efficient as third party rating systems
  • Provide training and budget challenges for many building departments who believe they do not have the staff, the training or the expertise to implement Tier I and II certification.
  • Provide conflict for those jurisdictions that have previously voluntarily adopted a local green building code in trying to resolve the differences in approaches and requirements.
  • Provide only a short term solution towards high performance green buildings since there are substantive alternate solutions for building high performance green buildings in the pipeline.

Some observers see added confusion in the marketplace with additional labels while others see no problem or limited overlap between CALGREEN and private certification programs.

Regardless of these different viewpoints on the voluntary tier approach, versus the private rating systems, there does not appear to be much disagreement about the objectives or needs of green building practices.

CALGREEN Tier Alternatives:

At least 26 jurisdictions already have voluntarily adopted higher requirements than CALGREEN Tier I and II. These early adopters of green building codes before CALGREEN include San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles and Palo Alto, Those jurisdictions have voluntarily adopted third party private rating systems as their green building standards, i.e. U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED® rating system or Build It Green’s GreenPoint Rated system. The LEED® and GreenPoint Rated standards have more stringent conservation and sustainability requirements than CALGREEN and a different process for compliance.

Some are mulling over if they should lower their existing green building standards to the State level in response to the cries of the need for the economy and uniformity. Others disagree standards should be lowered since the early adoption of a green building ordinance was meant to set a leadership example; and the adoption of Tier I and II ratings may be superseded by the IGCC in any event.

In March 2010, the International Code Council issued a proposed International Green Construction Code (IgCC). To regulate the construction of new and remodeled commercial buildings. The proposed IgCC code includes provisions for agencies to adopt the 189.1 Standard released in 2010. The 189.1 standard is the first green building standard written in model green building language with standard compliance paths written in prescriptive and performance detail for easy adoptability by all jurisdictions. It was a collaborative effort of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), and the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IES) that also meets ANSI standards.  The 189.1 provisions provide a strong technical backbone to the IgCC and is a good step towards consolidating the multiplicity of green building rating systems available. Preliminary reports indicate the IGCC to be at least 30% more energy efficient than Title 24. If adopted, then the IGCC will likely be incorporated into Title 24 effective in 2014. The IGCC is a formidable option to CALGREEN Tier I and Tier II.

The City of San Francisco, which has the LEED® rating system as its green building code, commissioned a study to analyze CALGREEN and compare its provisions with the LEED® rating system, the GreenPoint Rated system and the proposed IGCC/ASHRAE 189.1 standard. The City was joined by AIA California Council, AIA San Francisco, Build It Green, Stopwaste.org, the U.S. Green Building Council Northern California Chapter and Simon & Associates in forming a Green Building Codes Educational Collaborative to assist in  this comparative analysis. The findings are scheduled for release starting in June 2010 and should provide jurisdictions, designers and builders, better insight on how to handle the interest for higher performance green buildings with the appropriate standard of care, and whether or not it is advantageous to wait out this cycle of code updates for the IGCC.


Regardless what agencies do with the voluntary standards, training for the new minimum green building standards is a requirement. Here are four ways to get training.

  1. If you or your organization would like to learn more about the new codes from the California Building Standards Commission, submit a training request form via email to CBSCtraining@dgs.ca.gov or Fax:(916) 263-0959.  The CBSC is somewhat overwhelmed by the demand for training, but they have said they will do their best.
  2. The State has presented extensive workshops at the Green California Summit and Exposition, Sacramento Convention Center, March 15-17, 2010. The presentation archive is currently available online at http://bit.ly/v5fbX.in four flash video presentations.
  3. Additional training workshops are available through out the State this year per the schedule posted onhttp://www.green-technology.org/calgreen/
  4. At least one private firm is offering online on-demand training http://www.calgreentraining.com/
  5. Check in with your professional local chapter of CALBO, AIA or USGBC for networking and training discussions.


As professionals and officials, CALGREEN is here with mandatory and voluntary provisions.  We need to deal with it.  Three next steps are suggested.

  1. One – Get training in the new mandatory green building code minimums.
  2. Two – Get, Read and Understand the Green Building Codes Educational Collaborative findings when it is released so you can be informed about how CALGreen fits in with other systems such as LEED, Green Point Rated and ASHRAE 189  and be better prepared for planning, designing, plan-checking and constructing facilities in California no matter what jurisdiction you operate in.  You can currently sign up to get the analysis at http://www.usgbc-ncc.org/
  3. Three – Get involved with your professional organization to influence a better and more consistent future. Whether you are in CALBO, AIA, IFMA, BOMA, Corenet or USGBC, your professional expertise is needed.


Ronnie Fong, P.E., LEED® A.P. has over 30 years experience in public sector facilities in the San Francisco Bay Area and currently chairs monthly educational and networking meetings on the green building movement on the 2ndTuesday of the month in Silicon Valley.

The author has made every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information presented given the ever changing data available,  however the opinions expressed above are solely his own and do not necessarily state or reflect those of any organizations he may be affiliated with.