CalGreen Special Inspector Services – Another Hoop to Jump Through

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Apparently the State of California never tires of adding more and more code requirements to burden our construction industry. The California CalGreen code is a poorly written attempt at injecting “sustainable” practices into building design.

The fact that most of the requirements in CalGreen are already covered in other parts of the building code apparently did not concern the fiefdom builders of our state building code officials. What they created is a poorly written and confusing collection of arbitrary code requirements wrapped in a cloak of supposedly sustainable, green building best practices. In reality it is a costly, burdensome, hot mess that exemplifies the worst kind of government green-washing.

Greenwashing Defined: Green washing can be defined as the misleading act of companies, industries, governments, organisations and individuals trying to promote unjustified environmentally friendly practices, products and services through branding, mislabeling, packaging or public relations.

First published in the 2013 code cycle, the California Green Building code (AKA CalGreen) created a brand new code that contains mandatory requirements for all new and remodeled buildings. Why they could not have incorporated these requirements into the existing California Building Codes is beyond any kind of rational logic.

While the author of this article is a certified CalGreen Special Inspector, I abhor the burdensome process of design and review that CalGreen created.  The project-wide scope of the code, its level of detail and the ongoing expansion of requirements mean that even industry professionals can find the code hard to understand, and difficult to comply with.

A further complication of the CalGreen process is the inconsistent review, over-sight and application of the various jurisdictions. Some building departments in California barely pay lip service to the CalGreen Code requirements.

I recently was asked to provide Special Inspector Services on a winery facility in Northern California. I requested a copy of the building department approved CalGreen Checklist. It was part of the drawing set that was issued for permit and had the “Approved” building department stamp at the bottom. And the checklist was completely blank! (For those who may not be familiar, part of the building department permit review process is the review of the checklist which is supposed to indicate what sections of the code are applicable to the project).

So I called up the plan examiner who had “approved” the checklist and asked how I was to inspect a project which had an approved “blank” CalGreen checklist? The response was, “Just go ahead and fill it out and sign off what you think is appropriate and submit it for the occupancy permit. We don’t really look at that stuff anyway.” (And yes, that really happened).

Since the CalGreen Code is relatively new to the California construction industry, there are few generally accepted interpretations for any part of it.  In addition, the Code is not coordinated with the other volumes of the California Building Code. The Mechanical Code, the Energy Code and the Plumbing Code have over-lapping requirements leaving designers and code reviewers uncertain as to which requirement should govern.

Permission granted by the amazing cartoonist, Andy Singer

Further confusing the issue is the various options for compliance. For example, there are many sections in the “mandatory” category with language such as, “pick one of the following”.  The CalGreen Code lack of specificity in may areas, combined with the arbitrary nature of some of the requirements make consistent interpretations nearly impossible.

The CalGreen Code is a poorly written code that strays far from the “health and safety” tenant of  the basis for building codes. Even the concept of sustainability gets lost in such bizarre requirements of “exterior door protection”, “construction waste management” and “reduction of heat island effect of non-roof areas”.

The BSC has attempted to create the equivalent of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) process for sustainable practices. As many have learned with the LEED process, the real value to this effort is minimal. The majority of the requirement are already covered in other areas of the building code – and many provide no quantitative benefit to the building owner or occupants.

So how does a construction project minimize the complexities of the CalGreen Inspection process? One of the keys is hiring the right CalGreen Special Inspector. You need to hire one who is committed to simplifying the process – as opposed to the one who is going to drag the construction team kicking and screaming through needless complexities.

At 15000 Inc. we are acutely aware of the frustration of CalGreen compliance. Our experienced inspectors can navigate through the compliance issues with a minimal impact on the construction team.

If necessary we will address conflicts directly with the local building department, or their field inspectors. Your project needs a CalGreen Special Inspector that is a bull-dog when it comes to standing up to unreasonable and unfair interpretations. The 15000 Inc. dog pound has the knowledge and passion to stand up for our clients!

If you are in need of a CalGreen Special Inspector please feel free to call Gary Welch directly at 707-577-0363. I will discuss your project with you and provide a fixed fee proposal, in writing, within a day or two. Woof-woof…

About the Author
Gary Welch is a principal of 15000 Inc. with over 40 years experience in the field of HVAC, plumbing and controls system design. He can be reached at gary@15000inc.com.