Commission Adopts Green Building Standards into State Code

By Robert E. Raymer, PE

In response to specific direction from Gov. Schwarzenegger, the California Building Standards Commission (BSC) has adopted the nation’s first set of mandatory statewide green building standards for all new residential and commercial buildings starting Jan. 1, 2011.

“I am directing the California Building Standards Commission to work with specified state agencies on the adoption of green building standards for residential, commercial, and public building construction for the 2010 code adoption process,” the Governor said in September 2007.

Following the Governor’s directive and after 2½ years of intensive development, the BSC unanimously adopted these new standards at its Jan. 12 business meeting.

The “Verification” Debate: Third-Party vs. Local Building Department

Perhaps the most contentious issue during the adoption proceedings centered on who would do the plan check and inspection duties at the local level. The environmental community wanted all green building provisions to be plan checked and inspected by independent, third-party entities. The 17-member industry coalition supporting adoption of these regulations urged the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) and the BSC to place this administrative authority with local building departments, just as it is done with seismic, fire safety, structural and all the other provisions of the codes. In the end, the agencies agreed that verification duties should remain with the local building department.

The Green Building Standards for Residential Dwellings

Developed by the HCD and adopted by the BSC, the new mandatory residential green building standards will be phased in over the next 18 months, according to the following schedule:

Water Conservation (Effective July 1, 2011): The HCD standards require a 20 percent reduction in overall (potable) water use within all new homes. While this new water-conserving building code will allow for a variety of compliance options, it is anticipated that compliance with this requirement will commonly be met via installation of new low-flow toilets (1.28 gallons per flush), and water-conserving faucets and showerheads.

Remaining Green Building Provisions (Effective Jan. 1, 2011): The remaining green building provisions related to such topics as storm water management, indoor air quality, moisture control, resource efficiency and waste management will take effect six months ahead of the water conservation measures. Included among these mandatory provisions are:

  • A project having a total area of less than one acre must incorporate at least one of several listed measures designed to reduce storm water runoff. The use of wattles probably will be the most common method of compliance with this provision. Sites in excess of one acre already are required to mitigate storm water runoff.
  • Requirements for low- or no-volatile organic compound adhesives, paints, coatings and carpets.
  • Restrictions are being placed on the types of gas-burning and wood-burning fireplaces that will be allowed.
  • Composite wood products will have to meet the Air Resources Board formaldehyde reduction limitations adopted in 2008. This will have the greatest impact on cabinetry and certain wood window and door frames. Composite wood products does not include hardboard, structural plywood, structural panels, structural composite lumber, oriented strand board, glued laminated timber or prefabricated wood I-joists.
  • Heating and air conditioning filters will meet minimum requirements for filtration of dust and other particulate.
  • Minimum requirements for moisture control will be placed on new concrete slab foundations as well as the wood used in new homes and apartments. In addition, bathroom exhaust fans will be required in most cases (CEC requirement).
  • Direct reference will now appear in the building code to the California Integrated Waste Management Board’s statewide requirement for a 50 percent reduction in construction site waste material. Note: The building official is given the authority to grant exceptions to this requirement for those projects occurring on isolated jobsites where the project is located in areas beyond the haul boundaries of the diversion facility.
  • In order to help the homeowner or renter understand and properly maintain all of these new features, HCD is requiring a detailed building operation and maintenance manual be made available at time of first occupancy.

CBIA Assistance to Members: Implementation and Compliance Assistance

As with any new set of building codes, the CBIA staff will be producing a series of educational and compliance tools for our members. Such tools will include:

  • A compliance checklist.
  • Summary of the mandatory and voluntary Tier 1 and Tier 2 packages.
  • A complete, detailed compliance manual containing the regulations and useful advice on low-cost compliance techniques. This important compliance tool will be jointly produced with the California Building Officials, the HCD and the BSC to insure accuracy and uniformity throughout the state.

All of these documents will be made available on the CBIA website as they become available.

Robert Raymer is CBIA's Senior Engineer/Technical Director. He can be reached at