Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Thursday, October 21, 2010

California´s new Green Building Code: An interview with Dave Walls

From Green Technology Magazine:
California’s groundbreaking green building code, CALGreen, becomes mandatory on January 1, 2011. Its effects will be far-reaching. By codifying many aspects of green building, CALGreen ensures that energy efficient and sustainable design will become routine in California. In his second interview with Green Technology Magazine, Dave Walls, executive director of the California Building Standards Commission, discusses the genesis of the codes and why this is the right time in history for them to be coming online.
In the evolution of CALGreen what kind of stakeholder groups were engaged? How comprehensive was the development process?
We really reached out to anybody that we thought had any interest in codes. These included CBIA [California Building Industry Association], architects, designers, BOMA [Building Owners and Managers Association] and CBPA [California Business Properties Association]. I really knew that we needed all of this. That was a big part of it. We also reached out to model code-writing bodies because they have a lot of experience in codes and in background and publishing, so they participated. We reached out to our other state agencies that are very much involved in environmental issues, such as the Air Resources Board, the Integrated Waste Management Board [now CalRecycle], the California Energy Commission, the Department of Water Resources, as well as the Department of General Services that has been doing state buildings with the LEED process, making them green.
Of course, we also included the point green building certification groups USGBC [US Green Building Council] and Build It Green and environmental groups like the Sierra Club, NRDC [Natural Resources Defense Council] and EDF [Environmental Defense Fund]. We really tried to bring an entire spectrum of people and groups with different perspectives and expertise to build a consensus. That was our attempt and our effort – if we were going to put something in the code we wanted to make sure it was right. So you bring the experts in and then you can have that discussion, and all the meetings were open and public. They were also announced beforehand so that anybody who wanted to attend and had any feelings about it, one way or the other, could make their opinions known, either in writing or in person.
How long did this process run?
Our first focus group was in July of 2007, though we actually started engaging in the process about three to four months earlier than that. We had a number of meetings - group meetings as well as with individuals - to talk about specific issues all the way through probably October or November of 2009.
We’re talking about more than a three-year process of developing our first code, our 2008 code, and then moving this forward with the same groups of people to get to the 2010 code. Some were more engaged at times than others, and some were more focused on certain parts of the code than others, but it really was a very open and transparent process. As we developed our approach we’d put content on our website or we’d send material out to the focus groups so it could be read before our meetings, and could then be used to make informed decisions or comments or recommendations.
Why did CALGreen development take place in California now, at this time in history?
The Governor came to us and asked us what we could do to green the codes. That was the impetus. I think his policies as well as those of others in leadership in California had us headed in such a direction. I also think USGBC, with LEED and other programs, had been leading the way and really changed a lot of the public perception of what green is, and that changed the whole movement.
We’re in an economic downturn – there could be any number of reasons why, with the potential of adding costs and requirements both on the enforcement side and the building side, this could have been pushed off. Why wasn’t it?
I think, again, the timing was right. We had support from the industry, which clearly understands the issues relating to cost. We focused on that – it was a big part of the process to keep the provisions in the code attainable, reasonable, and not something that would hurt or have a negative impact on the construction industry and its recovery.
You’ve got to move forward and the industry will move with it. You’ve just got to make sure that you work hand-in-hand with them. There’s always a reason not to do it - you’ve just got to move forward and make sure that what you’re doing is significant yet realistic, keeping the cost impact or financial impact as minimal as possible while still getting a solid environmental impact.
So often you see a contest being played out between preserving the environment and the associated costs. Do you think that the building industry saw the inevitability of greener buildings with better energy conservation, water conservation, and resource utilization?
I believe they did, yes. I believe they saw it coming, as we all really did. It was either get engaged and help ensure the process is a good one and the results are good and positive, or stand back and fight it and not know what you’re going to get.
They engaged and ultimately supported what is currently the 2010 California Green Building Standards Code. They want to continue to be engaged in that process, so, as the industry recovers, I’m sure there’ll be more and more things that get into the code that make sense. Costs, as things become more mainstream, usually start coming down and just start kind of fitting into the process.
You worked closely with many environmental organizations that had input concerning sustainable construction and the components of the green code. How did you elicit their support? I know there were concerns that CALGreen wasn’t as strict in some of these requirements as it might be.
I think it always starts out that way when you’re dealing with a new code or new effort. You have sides that feel it’s not stringent enough, and sides that think it’s too stringent. We had to find that balance, as we did with the industry. One of our efforts was to work closely with the environmental groups to ensure that they understood what we were doing and trying to achieve. When you really look at individual buildings or what’s going on in a certain area of the state, it may look like we’re lessening the requirements - but again, we’re trying to set the minimum standards.
Others – local cities and counties or builders – that choose to go above our code can certainly do that. But when you look at the overall scene, and this is what the environmental groups that support us did, and get a picture of the impact that the code is going to have in California, you realize that it’s still moving forward. We’re really not taking a step backwards, as some people think we are. When you can capture 100 percent, or almost 100 percent, of the buildings in the state, as compared to making a considerably more stringent standard that is too difficult to comply with, the balance is there. The overall impact on the carbon footprint is still great.
Do you have a sense of how many green buildings were constructed in California, under say LEED or Build It Green, as compared to the number expected under CalGreen?
I don’t know in terms of numbers of actual buildings, but as we went through the process we looked at what local jurisdictions were doing. When we finalized the code earlier this year, there were roughly 10 percent of jurisdictions in the state doing some level of green building, with a required or voluntary program in place.
Some of them, of course, were the bigger cities. But as you look deeper, bigger cities aren’t always doing the most in terms of new construction. In terms of jurisdictions and size, though, we’ve now captured the 90 percent of the jurisdictions within the state that were doing nothing.
There’s a mandatory commissioning requirement as part of CALGreen for nonresidential buildings. How is this coming into play, since commissioning has never been part of a building code? What assistance can you give to both the building community and building officials?
That is the one piece of the code that is probably the most different for builders and jurisdictions. In areas where they’ve been building under LEED with a LEED commissioning requirement, some people are aware of it. But now under CALGreen we’re talking about all buildings over 10,000 square feet, which is going to greatly increase the use of commissioning.
We understand that commissioning is a new factor to contend with. We have a task force working on guidelines and we’re reaching out to stakeholders statewide. We’re trying to make sure there are enough people out there who are educated and trained to be able to comply. As I said earlier, the one thing we don’t want to do is have a negative impact on the construction industry – but this is also the largest piece in terms of environmental impact in terms of energy efficiency and what we can do. The study we relied on was from the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories. It showed the cost benefits and the short period of time for payback on commissioning, The environmental impact, the impact on energy usage on a building derived from commissioning are just well worth the effort.
As the January effective date nears for the new mandatory measures, what would you want to convey to building officials, architects, planners, contractors and other industry stakeholders concerning CALGreen?
Embrace the code and learn it. Get your staff educated and trained so you can implement it because it’s going to be here and it’s going to be here quick. It’s all about understanding – understanding the intent of the code and what you’re going to gain from it.
The Commission is already working on the next code review cycle. What do you see in the future for CALGreen?
For the code cycle that will begin at the end of this year, we’re looking at the tweaks and fixes that need to be addressed. With any code and any new provision, once you start trying to implement it, you realize where it worked or didn’t work. As we move forward we plan on improving it, bringing in new technologies, new efforts, or methods that can make the code better and reduce the impact that buildings have on the environment. That’s the goal.
CALGreen appears to have had an influence on the International Code Council and its development of an International Green Construction Code (IGCC). Do you see this continuing?
Well, we’ve been the first state to develop and publish a green code and they did look at our code as one of their resource documents. I participated on the International Green Construction Code committee that did the initial development, and I was able to share some of the things we learned in California with the IGCC committee. That’s been our main impact. I believe there are 29 committee members all together, so there’s considerable influence from around the country as well.
Building codes have really been focused on public safety issues – fire, electrical, seismic, that type of thing. How is it that sustainability moved into codes?
To protect buildings from fire, we have put fire standards in the code. Similarly, we have structural safety design standards for earthquakes or wind. We’ve had our energy code in California since the early 1980’s, we’ve had water conservation features in the code for a long time – many years. People tend to forget this.
I think we’ve just expanded on that. Environmental concerns have really raised the public consciousness. We’ve looked at this and we’ve said, let’s start looking at ways of reducing the environmental impact of buildings.
What better way to do that than with the codes? Our long-term goals are to integrate the provisions into our other codes. Then people don’t suddenly think “oh it’s a green issue and I don’t like green so I don’t want it,” or the other side of it with “it’s not green enough.”
We want it to be “it’s just the way you build” – and it’s going to be sustainable.

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