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Is My Project Subject to CALGreen? | Explained!

The California Green Building Standards Code, also known as the CALGreen Code, is the first state-mandated green building code in the United States. This code is Part 11 out of 12 parts that make up the California Code of Regulations, Title 24, which is also known as the California Building Standards Code.

The purpose of the CALGreen is to improve public health, safety and general welfare. Its designed to promote concepts and principles that reduce negative impacts, improve the environment and encourage sustainable construction practices.

It achieves this by focusing on the following 5 categories:

  1. Planning and Design
  2. Energy Efficiency
  3. Water Efficiency and Conversation
  4. Material Conservation and Resource Efficiency
  5. Environmental Quality

The CALGreen includes a number of mandatory measures along with voluntary measures which are identified in the code.

While the mandatory measures must be followed, the voluntary measures within the code may be included in the design and construction of structures, but are not required unless specifically adopted by the local jurisdiction.

Since the voluntary measures encourage building practices that minimize the structures impact on the environment and promotes a more sustainable design, it is not uncommon for some jurisdictions to make these voluntary measures part of the mandatory requirements.

Which is important to note that a city and/or county may establish more restrictive requirements if it is reasonably necessary due to local climate and geological/topographical conditions.

Therefore before you start designing a project, it is always best to refer to the jurisdiction having authority to determine what locally adopted codes will apply.

The codes intent is to set mandatory minimum green building standards throughout California, but it is at the discretion of the local jurisdiction to determine if any optional or voluntary measures also apply.

In this post we will look at which type of projects are subject to the mandatory measures of the CALGreen.

Before we get into this it is important to understand that the code generally separates buildings into two categories: Residential and Nonresidential.

Chapter 4 addresses Residential structures while Chapter 5 addresses Nonresidential structures.

In these chapters we will find the mandatory measures for these type of structures. Therefore we will have to look to Chapter 3, Section 301, which provides us with the triggers. It is here where we can find when these mandatory measures are triggered for residential and nonresidential structures.

Let us start off with Residential structures.

CALGreen Residential Buildings

First off lets define what CALGreen considers a Residential building.

When you look for the words ‘Residential Building’ in the definitions of the CALGreen, it reads as follows:

RESIDENTIAL BUILDING – See “LOW-RISE RESIDENTIAL BUILDING” or “HIGH-RISE RESIDENTIAL BUILDING.”

Here we can see that the code splits residential buildings into 2 groups: Low-Rise and High-Rise.

LOW-RISE RESIDENTIAL BUILDING – For the purpose of CALGreen, any building that is of Occupancy Group R and is three stories or less.

HIGH-RISE RESIDENTIAL BUILDING – For the purposes of CALGreen, any building that is of Occupancy Group R and is four stories or greater in height.

Based on the definitions above, residential structures of 3 stories or less are classified as low-rise while residential structures of 4 stories or more are classified as high-rise.

CALGreen Nonresidential Buildings

Now what about Nonresidential buildings?

When we look at the list of definitions in the code, the CALGreen does not directly define ‘Nonresidential Buildings’ however based on the definition for residential buildings, which the code defined as a Group R occupancy, we can conclude that a nonresidential building is any type of building not classified as a Group R occupancy.

CALGreen Triggers

Now lets go back to Chapter 3, Section 301.1 to see what the triggers are.

Buildings shall be designed to include the green building measures specified as mandatory in the application checklists contained in this code…

So here we see that all Newly Construction Buildings, both residential and nonresidential are subject to the mandatory measures found in Chapter 4 and 5.

But what about additions or alterations of residential and nonresidential buildings? Well the code gets into this as well.

Residential Additions and Alterations

Section 301.1.1 outlines when additions and alterations of residential buildings must apply to the mandatory measures.

The mandatory provisions of Chapter 4 shall be applied to additions or alterations of existing residential buildings where the addition or alteration increases the building’s conditioned area, volume, or size. The requirements shall apply only to and/or within the specific area of the addition or alteration.

Other than newly constructed buildings, additions or alterations that increase a buildings conditioned area, volume or size, must comply with the mandatory measures of Chapter 4.

For example this would be something like a bedroom addition to an existing home. This type of project is proposing a habitable room and needs to be conditioned therefore the CALGreen provisions would apply to this addition.

Another example would be an alteration that would involve converting a garage into a dwelling unit. This type of project is proposing to alter a space that is considered nonhabitable into a habitable space that is required to be conditioned.

These are just some of many examples.

It is important to note this section clarifies that in an addition and/or alteration project, the CALGreen provisions are limited to the actual scope of work.

Another thing to note here is the following section, 301.2, which clarified that the individual sections of CALGreen may apply to either low-rise, high-rise, or both. It does this by adding a banner at the top of the code section that identifies which section is to apply to low-rise or high-rise.

If you see (LR) at the top of a code section then it specifically applies to low-rise residential buildings only. If you see (HR) then it specifically applies to high-rise residential buildings only. If a code section has neither (LR) or (HR) in front of it, then that code section applies to both low-rise and high-rise residential buildings.

Nonresidential Additions and Alterations

Section 301.3 outlines when additions and alterations of nonresidential buildings must apply to the mandatory measures.

The provisions of individual sections of Chapter 5 apply to newly constructed buildings, building additions of 1,000 square feet or greater, and/or building alterations with a permit valuation of $200,000 or above (for occupancies within the authority of California Building Standards Commission). Code sections relevant to additions and alterations shall only apply to the portions of the building being added or altered within the scope of the permitted work.

Other than newly constructed buildings, additions of 1,000 square feet or greater and alterations with a valuation of $200,000 or more must comply with the mandatory measures of Chapter 5.

Another thing to note here is that section 301.3 continues by clarifying that individual sections of the CALGreen may apply to either newly constructed buildings or additions/alterations.

A code section will be designated by a banner to indicate where the code section only applies to newly constructed buildings [N] or to additions and/or alterations [A]. When the code section applies to both, no banner will be used.

Similar to the residential code section we saw above, it does this by adding a banner at the top of the code section that identifies which section is to apply to new buildings or additions/alterations.

If you see [N] at the top of a code section then it specifically applies to newly constructed buildings only. If you see [A] then it specifically applies to additions and/or alterations only. If a code section has neither [N] or [A] in front of it, then that code section applies to both newly constructed buildings and additions/alterations.

Other Building Types

The CALGreen does have mandatory measure requirements for Public Schools, Community Colleges, and Health Facilities as well.

Without getting into much detail in this post, you can read more about the mandatory measure triggers for Public School and Community Colleges in Section 301.4 of the 2019 CALGreen.

As for Health Facilities, the mandatory measure triggers are found in Section 301.5 of the 2019 CALGreen.

This sums up the basic code requirements of Section 301 of the 2019 California Green Building Standards Code, also known as the CALGreen Code.

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Reference Source – 2019 California Green Building Standards Code (CALGreen)


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