Green Building Standards

Green Building Requirements new for 2011  120510

California green building requirements take effect in all California counties beginning 1 January 2011.

Some of the effects of California’s new Green Building codes are clear: they are going to raise prices.  Increasing building code requirements always increase the cost and therefor the value of houses, making affordable housing less available.  All building codes increase the cost of housing.

But no one knows for certain all of the manifestations of this new code.

There are already “green” provisions in building codes.  The type and amount of glass in a building is regulated as part of energy conservation measures, for example.  

But the new green codes go much farther, making it difficult, as Cal Fire building material requirements did, for some builders and manufacturers to stay in business.  Some materials and building styles are simply going to disappear.  

Among the changes, the new codes will require new buildings to use 20% less water.  It will also examine the sources of building materials and construction techniques.  It intends a dramatic reduction in construction waste.  The new codes discourage products that off-gas dangerous chemicals.  There are other requirements for large or commercial buildings.

1. Building design using 2-foot modules,
2. Spacing wall studs up to 24 inches on center,
3. Spacing floor and roof framing members up to 24 inches on center,
4. Using 2-stud corner framing and drywall clips or scrap lumber for drywall backing,
5. Eliminating solid headers in non-load-bearing walls,
6. Using in-line framing, aligning floor, wall and roof framing members vertically for direct transfer of loads, and
7. Using single lumber headers and top plates where appropriate.

At first glance, these new green measures can only be bad news.  As the economy stays in the toilet most families can’t afford to build their own homes, or even rent homes large enough for their families.  

At second glance, though, there might be some advantage to local lumber producers and local producers of natural alternatives to manufactured products:

705.1 Regional materials. Compared to other products in a given product category, select building materials or products for permanent installation on the project that have been harvested or manufactured in California or within
500 miles of the project site.
1. For those materials locally manufactured, select materials manufactured using low embodied energy or those
that will result in net energy savings over their useful life.
2. Regional materials shall make up at least 10%, based on cost, of total materials value.
3. If regional materials make up only part of a product, their values are calculated as percentages based on
4. Provide documentation of the origin, net projected energy savings, and value of regional materials.
705.2 Bio-based materials. Select bio-based building materials and products made from solid wood, engineered
wood, bamboo, wool, cotton, cork, straw, natural fibers, products made from crops (soy-based, corn-based) and other
bio-based materials with at least 50% bio-based content.
705.2.1 Certified wood products. Employ wood-based materials and products comprising at least 50% of a
major building component, such as framing, flooring, or millwork, which are certified in accordance with one of the
following standards organizations’ requirements:
1. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Principles and Criteria for wood framing and paneling. (FSC also has a
certification process for federal lands.)
2. Canadian Standards Association Z809 Standards. (CSA may also have a certification process for federal
3. Sustainable Forestry Initiative Standard, 2005-2009.
4. American Tree Farm System, 2004-2008 AFF Standard
5. Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC)
705.2.2 Rapidly renewable materials. Use materials made from…

The new regulations force a consideration of “life cycle costs” which might benefit consumers in the long run.

In any case, enforcing such laws put an extra burden on counties, and an extra financial burden on home builders.   They might be a good idea, they might even be necessary, but unless contractors step forward to find ways of reducing costs, the new regulations might mean fewer single familiy homes, which is the way the future seems to be shaping up.

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