December 21, 2006


Santa Cruz building rules go green in 2007

By Brian Seals
Sentinel Correspondent

Tankless water heaters, recycled wood and even on-site rainwater collection tanks could be coming to a home or office near you.

Beginning Jan. 1, most new building projects in the city of Santa Cruz will be subject to green building regulations. The rules have been in place on a voluntary basis for the past year.

"This is a pretty progressive community, but we were lacking in having a functional green building program other cities have," said Richard Stubendorff, the city's chief building inspector.

In order to get a building permit, new homes and commercial buildings will have to include a certain amount of green-friendly components, which the program's authors say could entail extra upfront costs but can pay off through long-term efficiencies.

The idea is to use environmentally friendly materials and create a structure that is energy efficient.

Just how many features are needed will be based on a point system that takes into account the size and type of the project. Nonresidential additions and remodels of up to 1,000 square feet and residential upgrades of up to 350 square feet are exempt.

Points are awarded for a variety of building components energy-efficient lighting, salvaged tiles for flooring and concrete with recycled ingredients for foundations, among others, as well for situating a building to capitalize on sunlight and shade, for example.

There is a minimum threshold for obtaining a building permit, but taking even more steps can get a permit approval expedited, according to the regulations.

Beginning in 2002, a 15-person green building working group began the laborious task of developing more enviro-friendly building policies for the city a task completed in late 2005.

Ultimately, the city based its regulations for houses and apartments on a similar program in Alameda County. For nonresidential buildings, it adopted a rating system established by the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council called Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design, or LEED.

Just how much more costly these steps are depends on the size of the project. In some cases, the cost difference is negligible.

Buildings seeking LEED certification can see up to a 7 percent increase in upfront costs, but that can be recouped in energy and water savings during the first one to two years of a building's operations, according to the U.S. Green Building Council.

Thus far, the city's rules have been fairly well received, Stubendorff said.

"It has had exceptional acceptance," Stubendorff said. "People are really into it."

Already, some projects within the city are using green guidelines. Those include the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary's visitors center, planned to be built near the Municipal Wharf. It will be designed according to LEED standards.

Barry Swenson Builder is installing a string of green measures for an apartment complex on West Cliff Drive. For that project, windows have been situated to capitalize on winter sunlight and give heat to the buildings, said Ron Swenson.

"It saves energy, but it also makes the building more livable," he said.

The apartments will also have solar power, at least one solar-heated water tank and use flooring that is environmentally friendly to cut down on what is called volatile organic compounds that are found in some carpet fibers.

Projects voluntarily following green guidelines can be found elsewhere in the county, including the McCormick Woods residential development in Capitola, which was built in accordance with LEED guidelines. Bustichi Construction said earlier this years it plans to meet those standards with its Tree Circus Center project in Scotts Valley.

Across the country, some 21 states and 12 federal agencies use LEED standard for their own projects, according to the Green Building Council.

Contact Brian Seals at

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