Transition to LEED v4: making unknowns known

The transition to LEED v4 will be a short-term growing pain, necessary to keep LEED on track with its mission statement. When the US Green Building Council introduced LEED back in 1999, the stated goal was market transformation. It is a noble goal with no exit strategy, except to keep on transforming the market. Until, presumably, our…
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Energy use disclosure: Farewell to AB 1103, hello to AB 802.

The Nonresidential Building Energy Use Disclosure Program, known as AB 1103, has ended as of January 1, 2016. This program required building owners to disclose the previous 12 months of building energy use prior to sale or lease. It was intended to be a kind of "nutrition label" on buildings, so that prospective buyers/tenants can…
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Green building in 2016: the goalposts are moving again

Green building in 2016 -- it's going to be an exciting time for anyone who likes:

  • unintended consequences
  • hidden surprises
  • forms with essay questions
  • cost increases
  • obscure code language
  • three-ring binders
  • drawing sheets full of tiny words
  • new unexpected third parties creeping around your project
  • continually shifting compliance requirements

Half-serious pessimism aside, there's always room for greater resource efficiency in our building stock. If we're going to insist on an economy fueled by continuous growth, we have to figure out how to stop depleting our natural capital, stretch our resources, and create wealth off the "interest" that our natural capital provides. There will always be green building innovators and early adopters, willing to take on the risk and expense of piloting new strategies and technologies. However, we still need minimum performance requirements on all buildings in order to reduce overall resource depletion. It only takes one crummy building to undo all the good work on one LEED Platinum project. To grossly misuse an aphorism: green codes are the rising tide that lifts all boats.

So, here's what the rising tide is going to look like in 2016:


Time is running out on our old friend LEED 2009. It is six years old, depends on out-of-date standards and guidelines,  California building code requirements are catching up to LEED. USGBC will close registration for LEED 2009 projects after 10/31/16. This is the third time USGBC has pushed this date back, and I doubt that they will delay it again. If you have projects that are still but a gleam in your eye, consider registering those projects for LEED before the close of 2009 registration. The registration fee is $900, and we can help you take care of that. Even if you don't ultimately pursue LEED certification, you've only spent $900 to insure you don't have to use v4.

LEED version 4 places a strong emphasis on greenhouse gas reduction, integrative design, and marketplace transformation and transparency. LEED v4 is an improvement in many ways, but it also raises the cost of entry for LEED certification. Over the next few months, we'll be looking more closely at the impact of LEED v4 on specific project types including distribution/warehouse, senior housing, and higher education.

I've observed one big difference between LEED 2009 and v4. Under LEED 2009, a project team could get away with avoiding LEED until late in design, and still manage basic or even Silver certification. Under LEED v4, with it's emphasis on integrative design and owner participation, green building strategies need to be addressed at the earliest stages of a project. It is not a procrastination-friendly rating system.

2016 CALGreen

CALGreen is now updated along with all California building codes during the Building Standards Commission triennial code adoption cycle. All parts of 2016 Title 24, including the California Green Building Code, will be published on 7/1/16. New codes go into effect on 1/1/17. Expect a frantic push in the 3rd and 4th quarters to submit projects before the end of the year.

The final version of 2016 CALGreen is not ready yet. However, draft express language indicates that there may be new mandatory requirements for recycled materials, stormwater management, and landscaping. Minimum mandatory requirements are getting more stringent in waste management and water use.

While the rules may be getting harder, a building code is really only as good as its enforcement. Enforcement of CALGreen has been inconsistent since it first went into effect in 2010. However, in our experience, design phase CALGreen enforcement is becoming more persistent. Many jurisdictions outsource their CALGreen review, and those guys seem to know what they are looking for. I predict much more consistent local enforcement of CALGreen design requirements in 2016. I further predict that some jurisdictions will even start enforcing CALGreen construction requirements. My recommendation is always: comply with the code, because you never know what's going to be enforced, and at what inopportune time.

2016 Building Energy Efficiency Standards

Like CALGreen, the 2016 energy code will be published on 7/1/16. Expect the same frantic push to submit projects for plan-check before the end of the year. We (Ecotype) don't (doesn't) provide energy compliance documents, but we do get involved in commissioning and lighting acceptance testing as required by the energy code.

In 2016, I expect to see more plan-checkers asking to see certificates of compliance. In nonresidential work, these are the NRCC forms that are plastered throughout the drawing set. In residential work, these are the CF1R, CF2R, and CF3R forms. There are certificates of compliance for HVAC, indoor lighting, outdoor lighting, commissioning, solar hot water, fenestration, insulation, roofing, conveyance, and certain processes. These forms can be a challenge to manage. Not all forms are required for all projects. Different team members are responsible for different forms. I recommend assigning one person the task of verifying completeness of all certificates of compliance... an energy code consultant, commissioning provider, or owner's rep would be good candidates.

Building inspectors are increasingly aware of acceptance testing requirements for lighting controls and HVAC. These requirements often come as a surprise to contractors just before C of O. Lighting acceptance testing can only be performed by certified lighting Acceptance Test Technicians (ATTs). Mechanical acceptance testing must be performed as well, but it does not need to be done by a certified technician, unless and until there are 300 mechanical ATTs in the state. We will likely exceed that benchmark in 2016.


The SITES rating system is a green building rating system, very similar to LEED, applicable to landscape construction projects that may not have an occupiable building component. It has been around in pilot form for a few years and was finally released as a viable green building rating system earlier this year. It is designed to fit seamlessly with LEED, which makes it well suited to campuses where landscape, hardscape, habitat preservation, and outdoor athletic venue projects may not qualify for LEED certification. For this reason, I expect to see more interest in the SITES rating system among campus-based institutions, local municipalities, and urban planners.

As always, Ecotype Consulting is here to help you understand and anticipate these changes, update your standards and processes, and flatten out the learning curve.

AIA-CES approved courses from Ecotype Consulting

Ecotype Consulting is an approved provider of continuing education for architects through the American Institute of Architects AIA-CES program. We will be offering AIA-CES approved courses in green building design, green building construction, energy efficiency, commissioning, Title-24/BEES, and the LEED process. Courses are designed primarily for architects, developers, and contractors. The first in our series of AIA-CES…
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