Thoughts on construction law from Christopher G. Hill, Virginia construction lawyer, LEED AP, mediator, and member of the Virginia Legal Elite in Construction Law

CALGreen. It’s finally here. Now what?

Naffa InternationalFor this week’s Guest Post Friday, Musings welcomes Imad Naffa. Imad is the Founder and President of NAFFA International, a private Building Code Services firm in Fresno, CA. He is also the Developer and Administrator of the Building Code Discussions Group (BCDG), one of the largest building code online communities on the internet with 23,000+ members from 100+ countries.

You can also find him on the web where he posts on topics dealing with Building, Fire and Accessibility /ADA codes, housing and construction; along with news relating to design, construction, LEED/Green/CALGreen and Global Affairs.

You can follow Imad on Twitter (@imadnaffa). If you have technical questions related to Building, Fire, Accessibility/ADA Codes or CALGreen, Imad would be happy to respond by email.


Every three years, the building codes are updated. That in by itself is always a challenging time for all involved in the building permitting process (Owners/Developers, Design Team and the Code Enforcement Community).

In California a new family of building codes, known as the 2010 California Codes, became effective throughout the state on January 1st, 2011.

This time around, a brand new code known as the “2010 California Green Building Standards Code”, aka “CALGreen”, was introduced. This code is Part 11, of the California Code of Regulations, Title 24. It is the nation’s first statewide green building standards code and applies to newly constructed residential and nonresidential occupancies.

CALGreen stems from former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mandate to reduce greenhouse gases in California. Estimates predict a reduction of 3 million metric tons of greenhouse gases by 2020 as a result of the requirements of CALGreen.

CALGreen creates uniform and consistent environmental regulations for new California buildings, but it is not meant to replace individual jurisdictions’ environmental programs and ordinances. The Code requires that all local environmental ordinances still be followed. Local jurisdictions also have the ability to amend portions of the Code based on a finding of need due to climate, topography, or geology. Complementary sustainability programs, such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (“LEED”), may still be used as long as they do not interfere with CALGreen requirements. Some jurisdictions in California had their own Green Codes before CALGreen came about.

Among other things, CALGreen goals are:

  • Reduce construction waste;
  • Make buildings more efficient in the use of materials and energy; and
  • Reduce environmental impact during and after construction.

Only new construction is subject to the mandatory provisions of CALGreen; remodels, retrofits and additions are not affected. Residential buildings subject to CALGreen include buildings that are three stories or less, including motels, hotels, apartments, and one-and two-family dwellings. Nonresidential buildings subject to the Code include state-owned buildings, state university, and community college buildings, and privately owned buildings used for retail, office, and medical services.

The Code includes requirements for site selection, storm water control during construction, construction waste reduction, indoor water use reduction, material selection, natural resource conservation, site irrigation conservation and more. Significant documentation of compliance with these mandatory provisions is required.he Code provides sample compliance forms and worksheets, which may be acceptable or required by the local building department.

Commissioning, a process for the verification that all building systems (heating, cooling, lighting, etc.) are functioning at their maximum efficiency, is also required for certain buildings.

In addition to the mandatory requirements, the Code includes Tier 1 and Tier 2 provisions. These are voluntary measures that a building may choose to comply with for even greater efficiencies than those called for in the mandatory requirements, with the Tier 2 provisions being the most efficient.

CALGreen Mandatory Provisions

The mandatory minimum provisions in CALGreen have elements that go above and beyond a typical building department’s role and may require additional training, and likely special inspections and/or increased fees. To help in interpreting and enforcing CALGreen mandatory provisions, California’s Housing and Community Development Dept. (HCD) released A Guide to the California Green Building Standards for Low-Rise Residential, and a similar guide to the nonresidential. These documents are a key first step providing guidance and documentation helpful to the enforcement of the mandatory provisions in CALGreen.

CALGreen Tiers

In addition to the mandatory measures in CALGreen, the code also includes two voluntary packages of above-minimum green practices, called “Tiers.” The Tiers include all the mandatory CALGreen measures plus additional required practices (prerequisites), with a further requirement to choose a set number of optional measures from lists. Unlike the mandatory provisions of the code, the CALGreen Tier structure and associated provisions are a work-in-progress that requires additional definition and interpretation before they can be implemented and verified consistently across regional boundaries. While the HCD and California Building Standards Commission (CBSC) have provided guides to CALGreen that address the mandatory provisions, these guides provide little guidance on implementation and verification of the Tiers. Until a guide is developed for the Tiers, the burden of defining and verifying the Tiers is assumed by the local enforcing agency, which will need to allocate sufficient resources to ensure proper compliance. In addition, if the Tiers are adopted by a jurisdiction, the growing number of projects that utilize third-party rating systems—either as a requirement or voluntarily—may incur costly and duplicative documentation and verification procedures, resulting in the unintended consequence of discouraging rating systems, and diminishing a key reward for exemplary performance.


As an engineering company that specializes in the plan review process and building code consultations for dozens of building departments in California, a part of our plan review process will be checking for compliance with CALGreen. I’ve stated in the past, that for green and sustainable construction to take a foothold, it had to be incorporated in the codes and not simply be a voluntary process. Well now we have that in California. The green related provisions are in the code and we have to deal with them from this point on.

For the design and construction community, confusion remains. What is expected of them is being asked even today. Many training opportunities have been offered to the design and code enforcement sectors throughout the state, but now it’s the real thing. How to comply. What needs to be done!

What do the plans and specifications have to show. What about the inspection process? Who will do what and will there be a need for third-party inspections and verifications.

At a time when building departments are stretched to the limit with depleted resources, drastically reduced budgets and personnel, the new adopted codes in general, and CALGreen specifically, will test the system in a grand scale.

From the plan review side, most of the requirements will be dealt with through forms and notes that will need to be added to the drawings and specifications.

California already has the strictest energy conservation code in the country and compliance with the energy code will ensure compliance with the majority of CALGreen’s requirements.

The building departments will provide most of the verification through the inspection process. Buildings larger than 10,000 sf will have to deal with the commissioning process, which may be the greatest challenge in complying with CALGreen. Third-party inspection/review entities will step in to fill the gaps where the local jurisdictions are not able to provide the service. Additional costs for the owner will undoubltly be incurred.

Only time will determine if the CALGreen Code lives up to the expectations stake holders had for it.

As with any new code, there will be an adjustment period in the beginning that lasts about six months where the design, construction and code enforcement communities get used to the new code and what is expected from each party. This will be no different.

Additional Resources and Tips

1. The state maintains a site dedicated to CALGreen FAQs. Designers and Code Officials should be familiar with that site.

2. 2010 California Green Building Standards Code.

3. The Building Code Discussions Group (BCDG) a technical forum of building code-related Q&A has a dedicated forum for CALGreen and Green-related topics. News, checklists, resources, technical code-related discussions by experts and more can be found on that site.

4. For the transition period, the design team should be proactive in soliciting input and interpretations from the local jurisdictions regarding their expectations of what is required (forms, documentation, notations and the inspection/verification process) for CALGreen compliance.

As always, Imad and I welcome your comments below. Please subscribe to keep up with this and other Guest Post Fridays at Construction Law Musings.

CALGreen. It’s finally here. Now what?
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15 Responses to CALGreen. It’s finally here. Now what?

  1. Thanks for posting this, Chris. Thanks for the insight, Imad.

    Imad, as part of Naffa’s service offerings, do you anticipate getting involved in the commissioning process? What is your experience so far with CalGREEN in terms of overlap and/or conflict with other components of the California Building Code?

  2. CALGreen. It's finally here. Now what? | Construction Law Musings … | Philippines Construction - Steel Doors Best Prices Reviews says:

    […] Originally posted here: CALGreen. It's finally here. Now what? | Construction Law Musings … […]

  3. Hi Brian-

    Thanks for the kind words. NAFFA provides plan review, building code services and online technical forums. We do not provide inspection or commissioning services.

    It remains to be see how the commissioning process plays out. For now, many owners and designers are trying their best to limit the size of their buildings to 9,999 sf so that commissioning is not triggered 🙂

    This is all new to us in California. I expect there will be individuals and companies that will fill the gap providing such services. It’s bound to happen fairly fast.

    The state issued this helpful document “Guide to the California Green Building Standards Code–Non-Residential Commissioning)”

    Our experience with CALGreen has been limited so far since we are only one month into the process. It became effective January 1st.

    Most of the CALGreen requirements are incorporated in California’s energy conservation code. So when a project complies with the mandated energy standards, the majority of CALGreen requirements will be incorporated.

    We will be adding comparison tables and summaries that deal with #CALGreen on the BCDG in the Green/CALGreen forum:

    Thank you, Imad

  4. hey imad don’t worry about it…

    with all the added costs (A/E training, increased A/E fees, increased jurisdiction training and plancheck/inspection fees, increased costs for third party involvement, increased costs from materials manufacturers, increased costs by builders that have to deal with procurement changes, increased costs of litigation that will come along with new/untested requirements/programs, etc etc etc), and the current/projected state of the housing market for the next few years, we won’t be doing much small residential building, just doctoring up and putting lipstick on older housing stock… 😉

    oh, and did I forget… how are jurisdictions going to pay for their new training, plancheck, verification and inspection burdens since our deficit condition means no more money from the state, probably no money from any currently-contemplated tax increases, and it will take a while to implement any increases in application and permit fees to cover the as-yet unknown magnitude of costs…

    and stupid me… throw in some money for increased A/E insurance costs, since while everyone is trying to figure out what all this really means, plans are being cranked out and implemented – and you can bet they will be second-guessed down the line, resulting in increased claims for professional negligence…

    wouldn’t it be nice if just once California let some other state lead the way and work out the bugs? While energy savings and greenhouse gas reduction is great, the bottom line effects of this code are still anyone’s guess… might improve the situation or might not, because nobody has yet been able to demonstrate how this will play out when the entire life cycle of buildings is evaluated… that is part of the basis of the class action suit v. LEEDS… let’s all keep our fingers crossed that this particular new code cycle pain will be worth it

  5. This development should be of interest to anyone following CALGreen and it’s progression through California.

    The City of LA recently took the lead in replacing LEED (though the Green Building Program, established in 2008) with the new CALGreen Code.

    You can read more about it from here from this post on the #BCDG:

  6. Thanks for the update Imad. I’m interested to see if CalGreen or the like breeds further codes of this sort in other places.

  7. Is CALGreen Suitable for Washington? Maybe, But Cost Is Concern / The Builders Counsel Blog : A Construction Law Perspective from a Washington Construction Lawyer : Green Building, LEED, Public Contracting says:

    […] few great articles have already been passed down by California engineer, Imad Naffa, and good friend and green legal guru, Chris Cheatham. Both of these well-respected professionals […]

  8. […] you are interested in a more thorough review of CALGreen, I would recommend Imad Naffa’s post on the subject. Here are some quick thoughts I have on […]

  9. […] you are interested in a more thorough review of CALGreen, I would recommend Imad Naffa’s post on the subject. Here are some quick thoughts I have on […]

  10. Is LEED Too Expensive? Cities Skip The Plaque, Build Their Own Metrics /  The Builders Counsel Blog : A Construction Law Perspective from a Washington Construction Lawyer : Green Building, LEED, Public Contracting says:

    […] it has become easier to convince themselves that they should have their own green building codes. (CALGreen is perhaps the best example) But many municipalities are unaware of the immense cost in implementing a completely new and […]

  11. […] you are interested in a more thorough review of CALGreen, I would recommend Imad Naffa’s post on the subject.  Here are some quick thoughts I have on […]

  12. […] zoning regulations (such as in Arlington, VA) and state “green” building codes (such as CALGreen), and you, as a builder or construction professional (read attorney) have every reason to believe […]

  13. As I read the article and the posted comments, it sounds as if there will be a lot more human resources needed to assure CALGreen compliance. Are these the new “green jobs” we hear so much about.

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