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March 2011 | Volume 10 Issue 2   


    The City of Los Angeles’ Rent Stabilization Ordinance Study
    California’s Big Push Toward Building Green
    Net Zero Affordable Communities Break Ground

California’s Big Push Toward Building Green

Starting this year, all new homes in the state of California must be built to higher sustainability standards. The mandate stems from the state’s new green building code — the California Green Building Standards Code or CALGreen — which went into effect on January 1, 2011. California adopted the comprehensive building code in 2010 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other harmful environmental impacts by promoting sustainable construction practices. The code, which applies to new residential, commercial, and public buildings in the state, outlines various mandatory and optional green building standards for residential and nonresidential structures.

A view of the California State Capitol building. Photo credit: prayitno via FlickrResidential Green Building Measures

Provisions in CALGreen (Part 11 of Title 24, California Building Standards Code) are aimed at reducing water usage, minimizing construction waste, improving air quality, and increasing energy efficiency. Some of the key mandatory requirements for all residential buildings (low-rise structures with fewer than three stories) include:

    • Site development practices that preserve natural features and control erosion;
    • A 15 percent reduction in energy usage as required by the California Energy Commission;
    • A 20 percent reduction in indoor water use — all showerheads, faucets, and other plumbing fixtures in a home must be designed to meet reduced flow rates;
    • Reduction in construction waste — at least 50 percent of the debris from construction must be recycled; and
    • Reduction in harmful indoor air pollutants — building materials used inside a home, such as paints, carpets, and various adhesives must be low-pollutant and meet emission limits set by the code.

In addition to these standards, the code lists two tiers of optional requirements that are more stringent and address environmentally responsible site selection, infill, reuse of existing building materials, and higher energy efficiency standards. These measures can be adopted at the discretion of local jurisdictions to achieve higher sustainability standards.

Implementing CALGreen

Cities and counties were allowed to adopt amendments to CALGreen, provided the changes were based on local topographic and climatic conditions and were filed with the California Building Standards Commission (BSC) prior to the effective date of the code. According to the BSC’s website, 17 local jurisdictions have filed amendments with the Commission. Enforcing the green building code is the responsibility of local building departments and can be done as part of regular plan checks and building inspections. Localities also have the option to hire special inspectors to verify compliance.

Prior to CALGreen, a number of communities in the state, especially larger cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, had already enforced stricter green building requirements based on third-party rating systems, such as U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED and Build It Green’s Green Point Rated. Since CALGreen does not preclude communities from adopting more rigorous standards, some of these cities have customized the state code to meet community sustainability goals. For example, the city of Los Angeles had adopted the Green Building Program in 2008, which required residential or mixed-use projects with more than fifty units to achieve LEED certification. To comply with the state mandate, the city adopted the Los Angeles Green Building Code in December 2010. This code replaces LEED with CALGreen standards and allows incentives for projects that meet the two tiers of optional measures.


California has cemented its reputation as a pioneer in green building by adopting the nation’s first statewide green building code. Unlike other third-party rating systems, there are no certification costs or membership requirements associated with CALGreen, which can make it easier and comparably less expensive to build greener homes. The state’s efforts will ultimately lead to healthier and more affordable homes as residents benefit from the improved air quality and lower utility costs.


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