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CalGreen for Non-Residential Projects

Cal Green for non-residential project

CalGreen for Non-Residential Projects

CalGreen for non-residential projects requires the services of a CalGreen specialist. Unfortunately for building owners, this rarely happens.

CalGreen for most non-residential buildings is typically handled by either the architect or the mechanical engineer. These firms rarely have an in-house CalGreen specialist. Instead, the design architect or engineer ends up pasting a CalGreen checklist into their plans at the last minute.

The CalGreen Code is not like any other of the California Building Standards Codes. It not only requires an understanding of the code intent, but also an understanding of the wide range of sustainable aspects to green building design. Many of the sustainable aspects of this code are outside of the design issues that these professionals typically encounter.

In addition, there is little collective knowledge of the California Green Building Standards Code within the construction industry. The design team cannot rely on the general contractor’s knowledge to ensure all of the CalGreen requirements are addressed. 

Building departments, as well, struggle with the permit review and inspections related to CalGreen. Many plan reviewers are not familiar with the code and frequently overlook specific requirements. In fairness, most building departments are struggling with staffing and task saturation and just don’t have the time, or staff, to keep up with never-ending code changes. 

While the design team may feel comfortable that their permit was approved, there is a good chance that the building inspectors will catch any missing code requirements. These can lead to costly change orders, construction delays, and an unhappy owner. 

A fundamental tenet of construction law allows for a design professional to make reasonable errors and omissions when compared to similar professionals in their area. In other words, if the architect makes a $10,000 design error on a million dollar project, it is unlikely that the building owner can reclaim that cost from the architect as this represents a very small error (1%) in comparison to the over-all project.  

On the other hand, if the architect fails to incorporate a $10,000 CalGreen Code item in their design, they cannot use the “reasonable errors” argument. It is the architect’s responsibility to comply with the state building code and they can be held liable for any such claim. For more information on the liabilities associated with green building requirements see one attorney’s perspective here.   

Maya Lin

Where Architects Go Wrong

One of the biggest problems with the CalGreen Code compliance is the use of the California AIA’s Non-residential Mandatory Measures Checklist. From our experience, this checklist causes more problems in closing out the CalGreen portion of a project than any other.

The checklist should only show those requirements applicable to your project. This can be handled by clearly marking “NA” in the applicable column. In some cases a code section may have multiple requirements where some apply, and some do not. In this case we draw a line thru the inapplicable sections to make it clear what is not part of the project. 

Another concern is making sure the person editing the checklist understands the complete code section behind each item. The checklist does not contain the entire code section for each item. It is important to read the actual code section in order to fully understand the requirement. Frequently there are exceptions in the code that will apply to your project. In many cases the AIA checklist does not list these critical exceptions.

The most important take-away is just because an item is on the checklist does not mean you must comply with it. When in doubt, contact a CalGreen specialist.   


CalGreen Specialist

Consider a CalGreen Specialist for all Non-Residential Projects

Filling out the CalGreen checklist on non-residential projects requires and in-depth knowledge of the CalGreen Code. The language in the checklist is an abbreviated summary of each code requirement. The person filling out the checklist must know the details of the specific code section and how it is interpreted by the code officials. This takes the knowledge and experience of a CalGreen professional who has been trained in the code and is up to date on the latest version and amendments.

Completing the checklist is only part of the job. A CalGreen consultant needs to review the architectural, civil, landscape, Title 24, power & lighting, and plumbing plans to ensure all of the CalGreen requirements are included in the permit documents. In addition, the specific scope requirements for the general contractor need to be noted. This process takes time and is not something that can be thrown together at the last minute.

A very large part of the CalGreen Code deals with documentation and verification during construction. This represents a significant amount of work for the general contractor and their subcontractors. This scope of work needs to be identified in the contract documents.

The CalGreen checklist is not part of the design documents and does not, in itself, place a liability on the contractor. The checklist is a means for the design professional to show to the building department how, and where, they are complying with the code. A contractor is only liable for those items “that are reasonably inferable at the time of bid”. The CalGreen requirements must be noted in the construction documents. If not, the general contractor can claim they were not in his bid.

We frequently see this issue arise at the end of a project when applying for beneficial occupancy. The building department will ask the contractor for all the required CalGreen documentation. This is the point where the GC turns back to the architect and asks,

“Where in your construction documents does it specifically require me to provide this scope of work, Mr. Architect?”

This is where add services and delays to beneficial occupancy become a liability for the design professional. The scope of work required by the general contractor needs to be clearly defined in the construction documents.

Team work

Our Recommendation for CalGreen for Non-Residential Buildings

Handling CalGreen for non-residential projects professionally is neither costly nor complex. It does, however, require a CalGreen specialist. Here are a few of our recommendations to get you permit documents started on the right path.

  • Hire a CalGreen consultant. It’s not expensive. A small commercial project from our company may cost as little as $475. The fees are relatively small and well worth the investment.
  • Have your entire permit set reviewed by the CalGreen specialist prior to permit submittal to verify all requirements are documented.
  • Include notes on plans that clearly define the contractors’ CalGreen scope of work during construction.

At CalGreen Energy Services we are specialists in the CalGreen Code. CalGreen is our only business. If you have a CalGreen question please feel free to give us a call. We are happy to share our knowledge.   


Call us today and let us show you how we can help with your project.

Gary Welch


Phone: 707-328-5299

CalGreen For Out of State Architects

CalGreen – Frequently Asked Questions

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