Archives for the month of: March, 2016

The California Energy Commission (CEC) updates the Building Energy Efficiency Standards every three years, and 2016 is such a year, with all changes going into effect January 1, 2017. These standards are designed to achieve energy efficiency and improve indoor and outdoor air quality. The Building Energy Efficiency Standards cover new construction and construction on existing commercial and residential buildings in the state except for hospitals, nursing homes, and correctional facilities.

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These code updates are required by law and driven by new green building technologies and materials that continue to raise the bar for energy efficiency. The CEC updates and implements the building codes, which are then enforced by local city and county agencies. These standards must be cost-effective for homeowners in the long-term, and not just provide short-term energy savings. California is a huge, geographically diverse state, and the CEC recognizes that what is cost-effective in San Diego may not be in the Central Valley. The CEC divides California into sixteen climate zones, and the standards vary from zone to zone.

The updated standards will make it roughly $2,700 more expensive to build a new home, but these upfront costs are projected to generate an average of $7,400 in energy and maintenance costs over a thirty-year period. Compared to those built to the 2013 standards, single-family homes built to the 2016 standards will use 28% less energy.

The updated standards will not get California to it’s ultimate zero net energy goals, but it will bring the state significantly closer. In 2007, the CEC and Public Utilities Commission (PUC) publicly committed to the goal that all new residential construction will be zero net energy by 2020, and all new commercial construction will be zero net energy by 2030. The 2019 building standards, then, should be the final step in achieving zero net energy for residential construction in California.

The CEC’s Building Standards date back to 1977, and since then, have saved Californians over $74 billion in energy costs and are at least partially responsible for the state’s per capita electricity use staying flat over the last forty years, in stark contrast to much of the rest of the country.


There is no doubt that, in the green building industry, LEED sets the standard, but with the emergence of WELL, LEED is not the only four-letter certification available to green builders. The WELL Building Standard (WELL) is a performance-based system for measuring a building’s impact on human health and well-being. WELL is the first certification of its kind to focus entirely on the health and wellness of building occupants. Like LEED, there are different levels of WELL certification: Silver, Gold, and Platinum.

WELL sets performance requirements in seven categories relevant to occupant health:

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Air: Poor air quality can lead to asthma, allergies, and other upper respiratory illnesses, as well as Sick Building Syndrome (SBS), which is often characterized by headache and fatigue. WELL provides strategies to limit pollutant and contaminant concentrations. This is an area of significant overlap with LEED, which sets high standards for ventilation and indoor air quality.

Water: Clean drinking water is extremely important for human health. Over-reliance on bottled water is definitely bad for the environment, and most likely bad for human health. WELL mandates proper filtration technique and regular testing.

Nourishment: WELL provides design strategies to promote access to healthy food and to empower occupants to make healthy food choices.

Light: The circadian system regulates the physiological processes that control sleep, alertness, and digestion, and indoor lighting can have an extremely disruptive effect on the circadian system. WELL promotes indoor lighting that facilitates vision with minimal disruption to the circadian system.

Fitness: Lack of physical activity is a significant threat to human health, and WELL looks at factors in the built environment that encourage physical activity such as stair accessibility, neighborhood walkability, and another notable overlap with LEED, access to mass transit.

Comfort: WELL seeks to eliminate stressful distractions such as noise and olfactory pollution, while promoting acoustic, ergonomic, and thermal comfort to prevent stress and injury.

Mind: WELL promotes design strategies and workplace policies that contribute to occupants’ good mental health, from opportunities for altruism to providing a beautiful, pleasing environment.


WELL assesses the benefit of each WELL feature on the cardiovascular, digestive, endocrine, immune, integumentary, muscular, nervous, reproductive, respiratory, skeletal, and urinary systems. For example, stress, unhealthy diets, a lack of exercise and environmental pollutants can negatively affect cardiovascular health. Comfort features, such as sound-masking and optimal ergonomics, help reduce stress. Healthy diets, exercise, and elimination of environmental air pollutants also benefit cardiovascular health.

The Green Business Certification Organization (GBCI) provides third-party certification for both LEED and the WELL building standard, a collaboration between the Well Institute and GBCI to streamline the overlap between WELL and LEED and to further develop the connection between human health and wellness and sustainable design.