blog-5Charles “Russ” Russell and Moe Fakih of VCA Green have been traveling (and continue to travel) throughout California to provide insight on the updated California Green Building Standards and California’s Energy Code. The presentations prompt many questions from both developers and architects.
Of those questions, the “Top 10” questions were selected and answered to provide a quick overview.

If you or your organization would like to schedule a presentation on CALGreen, the Energy Code or you would like more information about our services and our sensible approach to green building, please contact Moe Fakih at

Question 1 :Is “solar ready” based on a percentage of square feet? In order to be “solar ready,” do you have to provide square footage as well as conduit?

In order for a building to be “solar ready” and comply with the new Energy Code, it must provide a dedicated “solar zone” which is based on the building type and associated square footage requirements (see below). Also included are exceptions, as well as an alternative compliance method to designing solar ready zones.

Single family, low-rise multi-family, hotel/motel occupancies and high-rise multi-family, and all other non-residential buildings.

  • No dimensions < 5′ and are not < 80 sf each for roof area < 10,000 sf
  • No dimensions < 5′ and are not < 160 sf each for roof area > 10,000 sf
  • Single Family total area no less than 250 sf
  • Single Family ≥ 3 stories & 2,000 sf roof, solar area no < 150 sf.
  • Multi-family no less than 15% of surface area

Some Exceptions:

  • Existing solar on building DC power rated no less than 1 watt/sq. ft. of roof area
  • Permanently installed solar water heating system
  • Physical conditions that do not allow for reasonable solar access
  • Northern roof exposures
  • Project is surrounded by physical features that prohibit solar installation such as high rise towers, protected tress, etc.

Compliance Option for Residential (must meet all requirements below)

  • Occupant controlled smart thermostat as a tradeoff against solar ready zone
  • 100% high efficacy lighting
  • Vacancy sensors all restrooms
  • Switched receptacle in rooms with no permanent lighting

In addition, the solar ready zone must incorporate “stubbed” empty electrical conduit which is near the zone and accessible, should the owner decide to install solar at a later date. Lastly, all solar ready zones shall be clear of any obstructions which will cause shading. Any shading obstruction should be located 2 times the distance, between the highest point of obstruction and closest edge of solar zone.

Question 2: Who generates the commissioning report?

A Commissioning Agent will generate the Commissioning Report at the conclusion of the project as a notification to the owner that the identified elements of the commissioning plan have been accomplished.

Question 3 : What is the difference between a simple HVAC system and complex HVAC system?

Simple HVAC systems are packaged units which usually serve a single zone with a single thermostat. On the other hand, complex HVAC Systems are larger systems (chiller and boiler) which control multiple zones with multiple thermostats or controls.

Question 4 : What is the new code’s guideline for valuation?

Currently, there is no code or industry standard for project valuation. Each jurisdiction establishes its individual valuation range. One tool that is used by many cities is the International Code Council (ICC) building valuation table that is provided by the ICC every 6 months. Some cities will use the valuation numbers straight from the table, others will use a local multiplier to reflect local industry costs, and finally some cities will establish their own valuation table. Lastly, some building departments will use the valuation provided by the contractor. The ICC’s Building Valuation information can be found at the following link.

Question 5 : Where do manufacturers get their BUG ratings from? Is it self-certified?

BUG Ratings, or Backlight-Uplight-Glare, is a rating system for outdoor luminaires. The Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) defines and provides the thresholds for manufacturers to comply. There are software packages that can generate BUG ratings.

Question 6 : In an additions/repairs/tenant improvements, do you have to “fix” (add insulation to) the walls in the whole building or just the area being worked on?

If the addition/alteration/tenant improvement is greater than 1,000 square feet and/or has a valuation greater than $150,000 only the affected component would require compliant insulation levels.

Question 7 : When modeling for daylight, in a typical retail building, will light dimming have to be modeled as well?

The daylight zones will be identified in plans. The light fixtures within the daylight zone must be controlled by a photocell. The fixtures must be either continuous or step down dimming and/or identified as such in the fixture schedule.

Question 8 : In nonresidential applications, do both the $200,000 and 1,000 sq. ft. thresholds need to be met, or are they separate?

An existing nonresidential building will trigger compliance with applicable CalGreen sections if;

  1. If the addition to the existing building is greater than 1,000sq.ft. or
  2. if the valuation of the alteration is greater than $200,000

Note: compliance with CALGreen is limited to the scope of the permit.

If an alteration or addition is greater than 1,000 sf or the valuation is greater than $200,000. Meaning, if either of these thresholds are met, the project will trigger CALGreen compliance.

Chapter 3 §301.3 states:

The provisions of individual sections of Chapter 5 apply to newly constructed buildings, building additions of 1,000 square feet or greater, and/or building alterations with a permit valuation of $200,000 or above (for occupancies within the authority of California Building Standards Commission). Code sections relevant to additions and alterations shall only apply to the portions of the building being added or altered within the scope of the permitted work.

Question 9 : Under the 2013 Energy Code, will residential buildings over three stories also be 30% more efficient than the 2010 code?

Yes, residential buildings which are four (4) stories and above are considered “high-rise residential,” and therefore must comply with the Energy Code’s Nonresidential Standards.

Question 10 : During the last few days of your commissioning service you observe that some particular component is not functioning according to it’s design. What action do you take and how does this affect the commission report?

The commissioning agent will notify the construction team and ownership that there is an issue during and/or after a field observation visit. The construction team will work with ownership to investigate the issue further and address it as required. The construction team will “close” the issue and provide comments on corrective action.  The commissioning report can be completed and the section for the malfunctioning component can be set aside until the owner has given direction for the remedy and it has been completed.

Actionable Green Building Compliance

These were the commonly-asked questions at our presentations over the last six months. If you have a specific question, please feel free to contact us and we’ll do our best to help you. The new code and requirements can be confusing at times. At VCA Green, we work diligently to help our clients meet the requirements while making the best business decisions for actionable green building execution. We look forward to hearing from you.

Charles “Russ” Russell

Vice President
(714) 363-4700

Moe Fakih
Director of Sustainability
(714) 363-4700