CalGreen for Out of State Architects
Navigating the California Building Codes can be challenging for out of state architects. However, large corporations with business sites throughout the US often prefer to use their select architects for all their projects, regardless of location. This requires the out of state architects to become familiar with the state an local codes where the new project will be located.
Understanding Calgreen for out of state architects is even more difficult.
California building codes are primarily based on are the International Building Code (IBC) series of codes. The main Building Code, Mechanical Code, Electrical Code and Plumbing Codes are all IBC codes adopted with amendments. Therefore, this portion of the design process is familiar to out of state architects. Of course many of the amendments can be significant and require close review. However this, in itself, is not overly challenging to a design professional.
However, there are two code editions that can be very challenging to out of state architects. These are the California Energy Code (aka Title 24) and the California Green Building Standards Code (aka CalGreen).
This article will address the challenges with CalGreen for out of state architects.
CalGreen is Different in Every Jurisdiction
Indeed, just about every single town, city and county in the great State of California has adopted a highly modified version of the California Green Building Standards Code. I contrast, the balance of the state building code adoption varies little within the state.
The process by which the Calgreen code is both reviewed for permit and enforced during construction is the CalGreen Checklist. Initially the CalGreen Checklist was included in the Green Building Standards Code as a simplified means for reviewing the permit documents for code compliance. However it was to rapidly morph into something else completely.
When the Green Building Standards Code was first issued in 2008 it was a shock to the industry. This was due to it’s unconventional format, the lack of formal guidance on interpretations and its use of voluntary measures. The code was a unicorn among the state codes which left design professionals, plan reviewers and contractors thoroughly confused. There was not another code in the county like it. Exactly, how it was to be complied with was not clear.
Local building departments did not have the training, staff or budgets to deal with this code outlier. They quickly latched on to a simple way of minimizing their review and compliance workload. The solution was for each jurisdiction to create their own, simplified, version of the CalGreen checklist! They could cherry pick items from the code that were easy to understand and review and put them in their local CalGreen Checklist. And boy, this idea caught on fast!
Today, almost every single urban area has its own version of the CalGreen Checklist. Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Napa County, Riverside, Palm Springs, Vallejo and dozens more, all have their own version of a CalGreen Checklist. In addition, every one of these varies greatly from the one published by the Building Standards Commission.
The wide-spread use of these abbreviated checklists has certainly lightened the review load by local building departments. On the other hand it has left architects, developers and contractors with endless variations in code compliance from one jurisdiction to another. It has also created confusion as to the code enforcement.
Technically, all projects in California are required to fully comply with the Green Building Standards Code. However, if the local building department is only going to review the limited items on the cities checklist, do they need to follow through with all of the requirements NOT on the local checklist?
For more information on the Calgreen process see our informative article here.
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Gary Welch has over 35 years experience in the field of sustainable building design. He is the CEO of CalGreen Energy Services. Gary is an ICC Certified CalGreen Special Inspector and Plans Examiner.