Verde Laguna: New state 'green' building code takes effect

On Jan. 1, the California Green Building Standard Code (Cal Green) became mandatory for all new construction. "Cal Green" is the nation's first mandatory statewide code for "green" construction to fight climate change.

The code aims to reduce greenhouse gases by requiring all new buildings to be more efficient and environmentally responsible. As such, the code has been written to address issues as site design, energy efficiency, water conservation, indoor air quality and recycling. Cal Green will require that every new building constructed in California to:

Reduce water consumption by 20%;

Divert 50% of construction waste from landfills;

Install low emitting pollutant materials;

Install separate water meters for non-residential buildings indoor and outdoor water use;

Provide moisture-sensing irrigation systems for large landscape projects; and

Have mandatory inspections of energy systems for non-residential buildings more than 10,000 square feet to ensure design efficiencies.

The new code system has a lower level indicating the minimum mandatory requirements needed for compliance, and two upper tiers with voluntary measures for those who wish to go beyond minimum requirements. The code will contribute to public health by promoting green building practices, such as reducing the use of volatile organic compound (VOC) emitting materials, requiring construction waste recycling and extending storm water pollution prevention efforts.

The California Air Resource Board estimates that the mandatory provisions will reduce green house gases by 3 million metric tons by 2020.

The city of Laguna Beach, in a memorandum issued on Oct. 26 by the Building Division established that compliance with the mandatory provisions of the code will be verified by self-certification for most requirements, and made no reference to the tier system.

So it is not clear if the voluntary measures are to be adopted later on if they decide to be more stringent on the green requirements, or how the tier system may be enforced. The city also did not exercise the option to adopt additional measures based on findings of our local climatic, geological or topographical conditions, or any requirements to help achieving the goals specified in the Vision 2030 or our Climate Protection Plans.

There are two certification checklists at final inspection, one for residential and the other one for nonresidential projects that are available at the city website, The checklist has to be filled out and signed by the person responsible for the project certifying that the code requirements have been completed. This document must be made a part of the plans when the building permit is issued.

There are some requirements for non-residential projects that should be submitted as part of the zoning submittal. The items are: 1. bicycle parking location and configuration; 2. designated parking location and configuration for fuel efficient and carpool parking; 3. outdoor lighting configuration and type; 4. types of fireplaces and wood stoves; and 5. outdoor smoking locations and signage.

The new standards have much in common with the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED system and Build It Green's Green Points Rated and offer owners the alternative to label projects as Cal Green compliant once they pass the final building inspection without the additional cost of third-party certification programs.

However, the reception for the new code is very different for both organizations. USGBC has some differences which are to be reconciled, while Build it Green is planning to align fully align with Cal Green such that fulfilling Build It Green requirements will fully comply with Cal Green.

There is no doubt that by growing the market for green building materials and practices Cal Green will help to lower building materials costs, and will drop the cost of building "green." By doing this the construction of sustainable designs is going to be more affordable and within the budget of conventional constructions. At the same time that this takes place, it's up to you to set your goals and decide how green you want to be.

GUSTAVO GRAD is a Laguna Beach resident and certified sustainable building advisor. He can be reached at

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