CalGreen for Santa Clara County

CalGreen for Santa Clara CountySanta Clara County Map

Santa Clara County has taken another step forward in improving the CalGreen permitting process. The building department created a user-friendly CalGreen Checklist and Notes. The notes go into some detail on the requirements of the checklist items. For those knowledgeable in CalGreen this is a welcome step. For those with little or no experience in our sustainable code, the added information may just be more confusing.

It is perhaps, more important than ever, to hire a CalGreen specialist to manage your checklist. The county has taken a firm stand on CalGreen enforcement. Failure to fully comply with all of the code requirements could cause delays in your occupancy permit – and cost you extra money at the very end of your project. 

The Santa Clara County Checklists

Santa Clara County CalGreen Checklist

Santa Clara County CalGreen Checklist

The county has arbitrarily chosen to separate residential projects into those less than 3,000 square feet and those over 3,000 square feet. For projects less than 3,000 square feet you only need to comply with the CalGreen Mandatory Measures. 

For projects larger than 3,000 square feet your are required to comply with the onerous Tier 1 requirements, in addition to the Mandatory Measures. 

The county has provided complete CalGreen Checklist drawings for each of the types of projects. In the case of the Tier 1 projects they have even provided some of the verification forms. This idea of simply inserting the pre-made sheets into a permit set may make for a simpler job for the plan reviewers, it raises some concerns. 

The major concern with what Santa Clara County has done is to allow architects and designer to avoid responsibility for their CalGreen compliance. Simply fill out the checklist, cross of the items and submit the County’s checklist back to them for a guaranteed pass on the permit review! So what’s the problem? 

The problem is that simply filling out the checklist does not ensure the code requirements are actually contained in the permit plans! What is not explained in the Santa Clara County checklists is that the intent of the checklist is to verify the applicable requirements are shown on the permit plans.

The majority of the items must be shown on the design drawings to ensure the contractor is aware of how these requirements are addressed in the design. Failure to do so is likely to result in legal disputes as to what is “reasonably inferable” from the permit documents.

For those who have not sat on a stand and been grilled by a hard-nosed lawyer, the legal term “reasonably inferable” is heavily weighted in the contractors favor. If an item is not crystal clear on your design drawings, your contractor can claim it was not in his bid. Simply pointing to a county-required checklist as your due diligence as a designer or architect of record is not going to fly in a court of law. Herein lies the real problem with how the county has chosen to handle Calgreen compliance. 

While the county has made it very simple for their permit review process, they have allowed unwary architects and designers to simply ignore the real issues involved in putting together a proper set of permit plans that correctly document the CalGreen Code requirements.

The county’s approach may have been valid if the CalGreen Code requirements were universally understood and enforced. However, adoption and enforcement of the code is very sporadic throughout California’s 528 building departments. Further, many architects and designers have spent little time trying to understand the code and incorporate it into their designs. The have gotten away with this due to the lax enforcement of the code in a large number of jurisdictions. Many jurisdictions don’t even review or inspect the CalGreen Code requirements.

Another concern with the checklists is that they provide little guidance as to when certain requirements apply to your project. Unwary designers may assume that, because it is on the checklist, it automatically applies to your project. There are many cases where this is not the case. It takes a CalGreen specialist, that is familiar with the intent of the code, in order to make this determination. Including items that are not applicable is a waste of your client’s money.  

While it may be tempting to simply insert the county’s checklist into your permit set, you may want to consider some support by a CalGreen specialist. A CalGreen specialist can review your permit plans to ensure all of the applicable requirements are properly documented. He can also ensure you are not including items that are not applicable to your project. Lasty, he can provide clarification notes to help ensure the contractor understands their responsibilities during, and at the completion, of construction.   

CalGreen Specialists

At CalGreen Energy Services we are specialists in CalGreen consulting and permitting. CalGreen is our only business. This experience and knowledge can be invaluable in preventing your project from going horribly wrong.   

While the permit and construction process can be onerous, your CalGreen submittal need not be.

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

Gary Welch


Phone: 707-328-5299

ICC Certified CalGreen Inspector

For further information on the county’s CalGreen requirements visit their website at:

SCC County CalGreen


CalGreen Energy Services

CalGreen Checklist

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