San Francisco approves a tough green building standard

Legislation will set the standard for newly constructed residential and commercial buildings within the city, as well as building renovations.


San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom approved a green building ordinance in early August that imposes strict requirements on newly constructed residential and commercial buildings within the city, as well as building renovations.

For commercial buildings and high-rise residential buildings, the ordinance adds in requirements from the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system. Starting in November (if the California Energy Commission has approved the legislation), new permit applications for high-rise residential buildings must include documentation to achieve LEED certification (or 50 GreenPoints), and starting in 2010, they must include documentation to achieve LEED Silver certification (or 75 GreenPoints). A number of specific LEED standards must also be met for landscaping, water use reduction, and construction debris management. Mid-size commercial buildings don't need to meet LEED certification requirements but must meet LEED standards for building commissioning, landscaping, water use, and construction debris management starting in 2009, and must meet enhanced commissioning standards and tighter water use requirements starting in 2010. Beginning in 2012, the buildings must also meet LEED standards for the use of on-site renewable energy or the purchase of renewable energy credits.

The toughest requirements apply to large commercial buildings. Starting in November, new permit applications for high-rise residential building must submit documentation to achieve LEED certification, and that requirement ratchets up to LEED Silver in 2009 and LEED Gold in 2012. There are also requirements to meet additional LEED standards, nearly equal to those for mid-size commercial buildings.

Finally, for new large commercial interiors and major alterations to existing buildings, new permit applications must include documentation to achieve the same LEED rating requirements as for new large commercial buildings, and must also meet the LEED standards for materials that emit low levels of indoor pollutants. All new buildings must earn additional rating points if an older building was demolished to make room for it, and they must earn even higher points if the demolished building was historical. Building projects can also earn extra points by retaining historical features of the previous building.

For homes, the ordinance requires ratings from the GreenPoints rating system, developed by a non-profit organization called Build It Green . Starting next year, new "small" residential buildings (those with four dwellings or fewer) must achieve 25 GreenPoints (equal to the "Elements" rating), but do not need to be rated. For 2010 and 2011, the homes must be GreenPoint Rated and building applications must demonstrate that a minimum of 50 GreenPoints (equal to the "Whole House" rating) will be achieved. And starting in 2012, building applications for new homes must demonstrate that at least 75 GreenPoints will be achieved. The same rules apply for mid-size residential buildings, except that the requirement for 75 GreenPoints starts earlier, in 2011.

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