California is often the nation’s leader in environmentally conscious legislation. Therefore, it is unsurprising that the state’s regulations for buildings — California Building Standards Code, or Title 24 — includes the first state-mandated green building code in the nation. Part 11 of Title 24 is the California Green Building Standards Code, better known as CalGreen.
The code is so progressive that it possesses numerous similarities to the most widely used green building rating system in the world: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). This might be a reason why California had the most LEED-certified projects in 2020, more than four times that of the next three states combined.
Though commonalities exist, a misconception has grown across industries that new construction in California that adheres to all parts of Title 24, including the Energy Code and CalGreen, will automatically achieve LEED certification. The fact is that LEED certification requirements exceed Title 24 stipulations in many areas, a distinct difference that could raise construction costs or endanger valuable certification credits if not evaluated and planned for upfront.
Exploring the Commonalities and Differences
Both CalGreen and LEED focus on the same five categories: building and site planning/design, energy efficiency, water efficiency, materials/resource conservation, and indoor environmental quality. Within those categories, CalGreen has several requirements and voluntary measures that align with LEED prerequisites and credits. For example, CalGreen’s section on the use of low impact development to mitigate stormwater runoff directly correlates with a LEED credit for rainwater management.
Because of these overlapping areas, the U.S. Green Building Council — the developers of LEED — created an alternative compliance path (ACP) in 2018 for California projects. The ACPs help streamline the intensive LEED certification process for those projects that are built to Title 24 requirements by preapproving 12 LEED prerequisites and six LEED credits. However, LEED certification requires a minimum of 40 credits, and LEED Platinum requires at least 80, so the ACP does not guarantee LEED certification.
To achieve the credits needed for LEED certification, builders must take additional actions where LEED requirements far exceed CalGreen’s. For example, CalGreen currently requires 6% of total spaces in a parking lot to be electric vehicle (EV) ready, while LEED requires 10% or at least six spaces. LEED also evaluates a building’s proximity to public transportation, the use of materials that have environmental product declarations, and the conservation of water used for mechanical processes — all items that earn LEED credits but are not part of CalGreen.
Knowing When and How to Pursue LEED
Though complying with California’s Title 24 code isn’t an automatic slam dunk for LEED certification, the value of the advantage it provides should not be overlooked. ACP is a significant head start, but it still requires thoughtful planning to maximize the credits while minimizing costs.
Before beginning a new construction project in California, owners should determine whether LEED certification is indeed a goal. By making that determination upfront, owners can make sure that every aspect of the design and construction is approached with specific, achievable LEED credits in mind. For example, if an owner decides to pursue LEED during the construction phase, costly rework may be required to meet LEED standards, while credits for recycling construction material and completing a site assessment might already be out of reach.
Fortunately, experienced firms like Burns & McDonnell can help owners navigate Title 24, ACPs and LEED certification. Our team has more than 130 in-house LEED accredited professionals and over 170 California professional engineers and architects to establish preliminary estimates for LEED certification and help guide a project through to completion. With proper planning and the right team, your California project could become the next LEED-certified building.
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