While the USGBC may be giving California and its green building codes an official thumbs-up, many in the green building community were put off by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s announcement of the codes, during which he thumbed his nose at what he called “expensive, third-party certifications,” stating that the new codes would allow California to build green without the expense of costly third-party programs. It was a bit of a slap in the face given that CalGreen borrows generously from LEED.
The people who will have to actually figure out the code — namely architects and engineers — are still concerned about dealing with multiple sets of standards.
“There was a lot of opposition to the state developing its own standards, because it creates a lot of confusion around the now-patchwork of required municipal standards and voluntary standards, and it seemed to people that the state was going rogue with it,” says Laura Tam, sustainable development policy director for the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, which helped draft San Francisco’s green building codes.
Building professionals also felt left out of the process.
“The California energy code is excellent because they worked with the private sector to develop it, and those people had more expertise than anyone, so they came up with requirements that were both cost-effective and saved a ton of energy,” explains Raphael Sperry, AIA, and a member of San Francisco’s green building task force.
“This code covers a lot more areas — energy, but also water, materials and so on — and they weren’t nearly as rigorous. It’s largely based on analysis done by the USGBC, and while that analysis is good, the state really shouldn’t be basing a whole new building code on just that.”
It’s unfortunate that building professionals weren’t consulted more in the drafting of the codes, because they will undoubtedly have a drastic effect on how architects and engineers do business.
Whereas there are currently a handful of such professionals who are able to guide a project through LEED certification or have specialized knowledge in green building, now all architects and engineers will need to know about green building practices. And that’s a good thing, but there will be a learning curve, and some in the industry are chaffing at the thought of being asked to add a whole new set of skills to their practices at a time when many are struggling to stay in business.
The codes also will affect the construction industry — they will make building more expensive in California, which neither economic development departments nor construction professionals are excited about. And they could also affect where development happens since developers are likely to gravitate to the areas where lower requirements make it cheaper to build.
It also remains to be seen how the codes will be enforced. One year doesn’t seem nearly long enough to train all of the state’s building enforcement officials, nor are California cities in a financial position to pay for such training.
There appear to be a number of issues with how the code came to be and how it will work, but sometimes drastic change is needed. According to Worthen, the same thing happened when the American Disability Act was passed, and the building industry had to quickly figure out how to be ADA-compliant.
Moreover, the move isn't entirely bad for business. Green building experts should see boost to their bottom lines in the short term (although in the long term, being a green building expert in California could become a thing of the past). , which he describes as being “the one people call when they hit bumps with green projects,” are likely to have more business than they know what to do with once the codes become official in January 2011.
“In the end, it will be a good thing that we all have to know about green building,” says Worthen, who works with Sperry and is himself a green building specialist. “It’s just going to be a challenging, painful road to get there.”