Alicia Livitt | July 13th, 2012
Less then two short years ago, California led the nation by being the first state to adopt an ambitious statewide green building code. CALGreen, hardly known by its long and boring full title, the California Green Building Standards Code, has been in effect throughout the state of California since January 2011.
The recently released new supplement to the 2010 code, is not nearly as exciting, yet it does manage to push the envelop forward on green building mandates, particularly concerning existing buildings. A summary of the updates, valid as of July 1, 2012, can be found on the Building Standards Commission website.
Perhaps the most significant modification to the code by the intervening cycle update is the inclusion of additions and remodels as a new section of Chapter 5. Division 5.7 – Additions & Alteration to Existing Non-Residential Buildings now widens the focus on the aspect of building stock that could end up having the biggest impact to the sustainability bottom line: existing buildings.
Although CALGREEN initially developed for new construction, which is the main focus in larger jurisdictions, lackluster new building starts in this bruised economy have blunted the code’s influence.
According to their LA counterparts, the City of Los Angeles’ Building and Safety Division, California code officials were “missing the big picture.” In a pioneering move, the City of Los Angeles had included existing commercial buildings in their local amendments to the 2010 CALGreen code and has been able to demonstrate success with that strategy.
As Michael Nearman, Deputy Executive Director of The California Building Standards Commission, described in his interview with Green Technology Magazine, “[LA] commented during one of our early development meetings that we’re missing the largest stock of buildings out there and that’s existing buildings, alterations and additions. Their representative pointed out that about 90 percent of the impact for green construction is going to be realized in existing buildings through remodels, additions and alterations. Having the initial codes applied only to new commercial construction didn’t really give full force to the code.”
Code officials plan to implement this big change through incremental steps, with the intension that smaller projects will not yet be impacted. Division 5.7 requires remodels and additions of existing buildings to meet two “triggers” before the code must be applied. The first trigger is 2,000 square feet for an addition. The other is a $500,000 permit valuation, or estimated construction cost, for alterations. Only buildings above those levels have to meet CALGreen code requirements.
The expectation is that these threshold limits will be minimized in the next edition (2013) of the code, effective Jan 1, 2014, at which time the 2,000 S.F. limit will be reduced to 1,000 S.F. and $500k cost allowance cut to $200k.
Only time will tell if these changes contribute toward a much larger step toward the state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal.