A green light for Silicon Valley’s green building regulations

By Todd Woody
December 22, 2010

adobewindspipres4Silicon Valley is an epicenter of green innovation, home to a host of entrepreneurs developing energy efficiency technologies. And now if those startup executives want to build a house or office building they’ll have to practice what they pitch to venture capitalists.

The California Energy Commission last week approved a request by Santa Clara County – the geographic center of Silicon Valley – to impose green building standards stricter than those required by the state.

That means homes greater than 1,200 square feet and commercial buildings will have to meet various criteria for energy efficiency, water use, recycling and waste reduction specified by LEED – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – a program run by the United States Green Building Council.

“Reduction of energy usage as a result of efficiencies and conservation required by this ordinance is likely to have local benefits such as cost reduction, additional available system energy capacity, reduction in electricity demand and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions,” the Santa Clara County regulations state. “These benefits are likely to become increasingly important as the effects of global warming and climate change are felt locally.”

The ordinance requires that new single-family homes between 1,200 square feet and 3,000 square feet obtain LEED certification or 50 LEED points. If you’re a tech titan building the Silicon Valley version of a McMansion, you need to qualify for one additional LEED point for every 100 square feet above 3,000 square feet.

There are four levels of LEED designation – certified, silver, gold and platinum — that are achieved by racking up points for individual energy efficiency and design improvements and other measures. To win the certified award, a building must receive between 40 and 50 points. A silver designation, for instance, requires between 50 and 59 points. The more improvements made to a building, the more points received.

Commercial buildings between 5,000 square feet and 25,000 square feet must obtain LEED certification and reduce indoor water use by 25 percent. Buildings bigger than 25,000 square feet must score LEED Silver certification and cut water use as well. All commercial buildings bigger than 5,000 square feet must install recycled water systems, known as “dual plumbing,” if recycled water is available within a half mile or scheduled to be available within a decade.

“It’s another good example of local government leadership on efficiency,” said one energy commissioner.

Santa Clara County was one of eight local California governments that requested approval of more stringent green building standards.

(Photo courtesy of Windspire Energy.)

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I would like to clarify some incorrect information in this post. The standard used for residential buildings in this ordinance is actually GreenPoint Rated, not LEED. The ordinance requires homes greater than 1,200 square feet to obtain GreenPoint Rated certification (50 points). Homes larger than 3,000 square feet must earn one more point for each 100 square feet. Alternatively, homes can be certified through LEED for Homes, which already accounts for home size. GreenPoint Rated is a California-only system which is based on the California Building Standards Code.

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