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Holly Schroeder: Greener and greener buildings

Posted: February 26, 2010 5:18 p.m.
Updated: February 28, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Just what does it mean to call a building a "green building?"

In the past, there were easy ways to make this determination. Most commonly, green buildings followed an environmental rating system.

These systems are developed and administered by private companies and they identify certain building practices - such as limiting energy use or water consumption - that meant the resulting building was "green."

There are several such rating systems that operate in California - the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and Build It Green's Green Point Rater system are two of the most commonly followed private rating systems.

So what happens when the state of California defines a green building? We're about to find out, since the state Building Standards Commission adopted "CALGreen" earlier this year.

CALGreen is a new element of the state building code that sets new standards for energy efficiency, water consumption, construction waste recycling and indoor air quality.

Unlike the private third-party systems, CALGreen will apply to all new buildings because it is now a part of the standard building code.
CALGreen is the toughest building code in the country.

Even before CALGreen, buildings constructed in California were some of the greenest buildings.

California homes have been reducing their energy use for 30 years - the result being that total energy consumption in California is the same as it was in 1978. This, despite a rapidly growing population.

Meanwhile, energy use in the rest of the country has doubled, perhaps in part because several states still have no energy requirements in the building code at all.

The same holds true when you look at water use. New homes use significantly less water than older homes.

A new study by the California Homebuilding Foundation found that new homes use 35 percent less water than those built 30 years ago.

Increased use of smart weather irrigation in the new CALGreen standard is projected to reduce the amount of landscape overwatering by 85 percent.

The action by the state Building Standards Commission to adopt a comprehensive green-building code adds to a long history of green-building requirements that have existed in California for decades.

What we do have to do is recognize how much further ahead California and new buildings are from the pack. With CALGreen, we are reaching diminishing returns.

Improving the green building standards much more comes at an exponentially increasing price.

Instead, our efforts are better directed at upgrading the millions of buildings and homes that were built before there were any green-building requirements. Proposed programs such as Cash for Caulkers will do more to reduce environmental impacts than any additional requirements on new construction.

The adoption of a green-building code by the state makes green building the construction standard for the future.

The building industry continues to incorporate green technologies and lead the way toward a great quality of life for our current and future residents.

Holly Schroeder is CEO of the Building Industry Association's Los Angeles/Ventura chapter, with offices in Valencia. She can be reached at Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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