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The west coast of the US – California, Oregon and Washington – has always been seen as being progressive and forward thinking is many ways. They have held up that reputation with their building and energy codes, too.

California was the first state in the US to adopt a statewide, mandatory building code. The California Green Building Standards Codes, or CalGreen, took effect in January 2011. It applies only to new construction of low-rise residential, public and commercial buildings, including offices, retail, schools and medical services buildings. Sadly, retrofits, additions, remodels and repairs are not included in the code.

There are two voluntary tiers, I and II, above and beyond the code intended to increase efficiency, Tier II being the most efficient. However, implementation, documentation and verification rules are vague and confusing, and they may conflict with third party rating systems. There also need to be special inspections and new fees. Despite the guidebook for the tiers, experts need to be trained.

Goals of CalGreen

The goals of CalGreen are in line with California’s new global warming law. It will help meet their emission targets of a 25% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. There are mandatory emissions caps for certain buildings starting in 2012.

CalGreen focuses on:

  • reducing construction waste by 50% through recycling
  • cutting water use 20% with efficient plumbing fixtures and landscaping irrigation
  • improving indoor air quality with low VOC products
  • reducing environmental impact during and after construction with proper site selection and clean up
  • suitable materials
  • conserving natural resources

Compliance must be documented, and there are performance requirements for certain buildings.

CalGreen does not replace local codes and ordinances, but it can be amended for local conditions and to make the code more stringent. LEED can be used for certification as long as it does not interfere with CalGreen. Aside from conserving resources, CalGreen is also creating jobs. I just wish it applied to renovations!

Energy Efficient Specialty Codse (OEESC) in Oregon

The statewide Oregon Energy Efficiency Specialty Code (OEESC) encompasses more than building, and it will improve upon their current codes, policy and programs. This is an energy code focusing on energy efficiency, renewable energy, water conservation and charging stations for electric vehicles. That’s my favorite part – looking to the future by addressing electric vehicle needs!

Before Oregon enacted a stringent energy code, it was third in the US for building code energy efficiency and fourth for overall energy efficiency policy and programs. Oregon has always been ahead of other states in many ways, so this does not surprise me.

These new standards will reduce energy use in commercial buildings by 15%. Increased insulation, automatic lighting controls and more efficient HVAC systems are required. The Oregon Reach Code is optional for those wishing to design and build beyond the energy code.

Oregon’s statewide code for solar installation is the first in the country, and water catchment and recycling has new standards, too.

The 2012 national model code will probably have some of the OEESC incorporated into it. That’s how stringent and effective it is!

Green building codes in Washington state

Washington is home to Richland, the first local government to adopt the International Green Construction Code (IGCC). Even though this is not a mandatory code, the city thought it was a great way to help educate designers, architects and property owners about energy efficiency and conservation.

In July 2010, the Washington State Energy Code became law. It is aligned with the state’s 30-year plan to reduce waste and toxicity, and increase recycling. As of 2005, in order to receive public funding, new construction and renovations must be built to LEED Silver standards. On the other hand, HVAC products must adhere to the federal standards code, which is less stringent. This created a lawsuit, which happened in Albuquerque, NM, too.

There are three state mandated certification programs:

  • Evergreen Sustainable Development Standard for Affordable Housing (ESDS)
  • LEED for commercial, residential and existing buildings, and neighborhood development.
  • Washington Sustainable Schools Protocol

Washington has covered most every aspect, but I think their standards could be tighter.

How west coast green building codes should evolve

My wish for building codes is to make them mandatory with no opt-out feature, and apply them to new construction, renovations and repairs on residential and commercial buildings. There should also be standards for going beyond the code, which energy conscious designers and builders want to do. All in all, though, the west coast has caught on and is moving forward.

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.