On August 4, 2008, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom signed a new Green Building Ordinance (“Ordinance”) into law, amending the existing Building Code by inserting Chapter 13C. The goal of the Ordinance is to reduce the city’s carbon emissions to 20% below 1990 levels by 2012. The Ordinance aims to achieve that goal by phasing in more stringent building requirements over the next four years. The Ordinance provides that it will take effect 90 days from its adoption by the City (November 2, 2008), if the California Energy Commission (“CEC”) approves it by that time.[1]

If approved by CEC, the Ordinance has important implications for residential and commercial builders and property owners in San Francisco. These include potential for increased building costs, more difficult materials procurement and lengthened planning and design time-frames, as well as third-party certification, space allocation requirements with respect to recycling, mandatory construction debris recycling, and other requirements that may impact a project’s design.

This article breaks down and summarizes the requirements of the Ordinance for those who will be impacted, which includes builders/property owners who plan to:

  1. Build new Group B or M[1] (“commercial”) buildings with areas of over 5,000 gross square feet,
  2. Build new Group R (“residential”) buildings,
  3. New first-time build-outs of commercial building interiors that are at least 25,000 gross square feet in area,
  4. Make major alterations to existing commercial or residential buildings that are at least 25,000 gross square feet in area.[2]

The Ordinance exempts from these requirements:

  1. City projects that are covered by Chapter 7 of the San Francisco Environment Code, which covers any construction projects relating to buildings owned or leased by the City and County of San Francisco.[3]
  2. Any buildings in which laboratory use is the primary use or any renovations primarily for laboratory use.
  3. Any activity warranting an exemption by the Director of Building Inspection on grounds of hardship, infeasibility, or maintenance of historical integrity.[4]

The Ordinance’s requirements are based on the following six building types: Small Residential, Mid-Size Residential, High Rise Residential, Mid-Size Commercial, New Large Commercial, and New Large Commercial Interiors and Major Alterations to Existing Buildings.

The building standards implemented by the Ordinance and explained below include ratings that are based on the following performance standards published through the U.S. Green Building Council‘s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program (for commercial or large residential buildings) or Build It Green‘s GreenPoint program (for residential buildings). 

While most developers and property owners are familiar with LEED, many permit applicants may not be familiar with Build It Green’s GreenPoint program. Build It Green is a third-party certification program similar to LEED, but with a focus on smaller residential buildings. Also similar to LEED, a GreenPoint program participant obtains points by implementing various guidelines to reduce a project’s environmental footprint. The five categories rated by Build It Green are: Energy Efficiency, Resource Conservation, Indoor Air Quality, Water Conservation, and Community. Once a project is awarded 50 points from a certified GreenPoint Rater, the project can bear the “GreenPoint Rated” label and is provided a numerical score, which buyers or renters can use to compare the project against others on the market. For the purposes of San Francisco’s Green Building Ordinance, the GreenPoint rating system is only applicable to Small and Mid-Size Residential Buildings, and the Build It Green standard implemented by the Ordinance is GreenPoint Rated (GPR) – GPR v2007 (March 2007).

The LEED performance standards for applications subject to the Green Building Ordinance are: LEED-CI v2.0 - LEED for Commercial Interiors (June 2005), LEED-CS v2.0 - LEED for Core and Shell (July 2006), and LEED-NC v2.2 - LEED for New Construction (July 2007). These standards contain more detail on the Ordinance’s specific requirements and are referred to throughout the Ordinance.

In addition to codifying elements of the LEED and Build It Green program, the Ordinance attempts to discourage demolition of pre-existing buildings. It contains heightened certification requirements for projects that involve demolition and even more stringent requirements for projects that involve demolition of property that fulfills the definition of “historical resource” under the California Environmental Quality Act.[5] Both the general and the heightened requirements are discussed below by building type.

New Building Requirements: By Building

Small Residential Buildings: includes those containing four or fewer dwelling units and measuring less than 75 feet in height to the highest occupied floor.

GreenPoint rating to be achieved: Effective by the operative date[6], all building permit applicants for new Small Residential Buildings must complete a GreenPoints New Home Construction Checklist. Starting January 1, 2009, permit applicants will be required to demonstrate efficiency measures according to the following schedule:

January 1, 2009: Measures resulting in a total of 25 GreenPoints

January 1, 2010: Measures resulting in a total of 50 GreenPoints

January 1, 2012: Measures resulting in a total of 75 GreenPoints

GreenPoint rating to be achieved if the project involves demolition: Where construction is to take place within five years of demolition (after the operative date) of a pre-existing building, such applications will require a greater number of GreenPoints:

Demolition of historical property requires 25 GreenPoints in addition to those set out in the schedule above. However, some GreenPoints can be credited to the project if it retains and reuses certain historical features, such as windows, doors, and trim.

Demolition of nonhistorical property requires 20 GreenPoints in addition to those set out in the schedule above. However, this number can be reduced if the new building achieves higher density.[7] The application need only earn 17 additional GreenPoints if the density of the new building is triple that of the old building or 15 GreenPoints if the density is quadrupled.

Recycling and Composting: Effective by the operative date, all building permit applicants for new Small Residential Buildings must submit documentation that designates adequate on-site space for separation, storage, and loading of trash, recyclables and compostable waste.

Storm water management: Effective by the operative date, all building permit applicants for new Small Residential Buildings must meet the “Best Management Practices” and “Stormwater Design Guidelines” of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. (See San Francisco Storm Water Management Plan and San Francisco Storm Water Design Guidelines.) In addition, storm water management must meet or exceed the LEED SS 6.1 and 6.2 guidelines. Guideline SS 6.1 addresses imperviousness: if existing imperviousness of the site is less than or equal to 50%, the guideline requires: 1) prevention of the post-development peak discharge rate and quantity from exceeding that of pre-development, or 2) protection of receiving stream channels from excessive erosion. If existing imperviousness exceeds 50%, then Guideline SS 6.1 requires a 25% decrease in the volume of stormwater runoff from the two-year 24-hour design storm. In addition, Guideline SS 6.2 requires a management plan that captures and treats stormwater runoff from 90% of the average annual rainfall, removing 80% of the average annual post-development total suspended solids based on existing monitoring reports.

Mid-Size Residential Buildings: includes buildings that contain five or more dwelling units and 75 feet or less in height to highest occupied floor. Mid-Size Residential also includes mixed use residential and commercial buildings that are less than 75 feet in height.

GreenPoint rating to be achieved: Effective by the operative date, all building permit applicants for new Mid-Size Residential Buildings must complete a GreenPoints New Home Construction Checklist. Starting January 1, 2009, permit applicants will be required to demonstrate efficiency measures according to the following schedule:

January 1, 2009: Measures resulting in a total of 25 GreenPoints

January 1, 2010: Measures resulting in a total of 50 GreenPoints

January 1, 2011: Measures resulting in a total of 75 GreenPoints

GreenPoint rating to be achieved if the project involves demolition: Where construction is to take place within five years of demolition (after the operative date) of a pre-existing building, such applications will require a greater number of GreenPoints.

Demolition of property that fulfills the definition of “historical resource” under the California Environmental Quality Act requires 25 GreenPoints in addition to those set out in the schedule above. However, some points can be credited to the project if it retains and reuses certain historical features, such as windows, doors, and trim.

Demolition of nonhistorical property requires 20 GreenPoints in addition to those set out in the schedule above. However, this number can be reduced if the new building achieves higher density. The application need only earn 17 additional GreenPoints if the density of the new building is triple that of the old building or 15 GreenPoints if the density is quadrupled.

Recycling and Composting: Effective by the operative date, all building permit applicants for new Mid-Size Residential Buildings must submit documentation that designates adequate on-site space for separation, storage, and loading of trash, recyclables and compostable waste.

Storm water management: Effective by the operative date, all building permit applicants for new Mid-Size Residential Buildings must meet the “Best Management Practices” and “Stormwater Design Guidelines” of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. (See San Francisco Storm Water Management Plan and San Francisco Storm Water Design Guidelines.) In addition, storm water management must meet or exceed the LEED SS 6.1 and 6.2 guidelines. Guideline SS 6.1 addresses imperviousness: if existing imperviousness of the site is less than or equal to 50%, the guideline requires: 1) prevention of the post-development peak discharge rate and quantity from exceeding that of pre-development, or 2) protection of receiving stream channels from excessive erosion. If existing imperviousness exceeds 50%, then Guideline SS 6.1 requires a 25% decrease in the volume of stormwater runoff from the two-year 24-hour design storm. In addition, Guideline SS 6.2 requires a management plan that captures and treats stormwater runoff from 90% of the average annual rainfall, removing 80% of the average annual post-development total suspended solids based on existing monitoring reports.

High-Rise Residential Buildings: includes buildings that contain five or more dwelling units and are greater than 75 feet in height to the highest occupied floor.

LEED or GreenPoint rating to be achieved: Effective by the operative date, all building permit applicants for new High-Rise Residential Buildings can either submit documentation to obtain “LEED Certified” certification or a GreenPoint rating of 50 points. Starting January 1, 2010, all building permit applicants for High-Rise Residential projects will be required to demonstrate LEED Silver certification or a Green Point rating of 75 points for their projects. If a permit applicant chooses to achieve a GreenPoint rating rather than a LEED rating, all LEED-NC prerequisites must be met in addition to the GreenPoint rating.[8]

Rating to be achieved if the project involves demolition: Where construction is to take place within five years of demolition (after the operative date) of a pre-existing building, such applications will require a greater number of LEED points or GreenPoints.

Demolition of property that fulfills the definition of “historical resource” under the California Environmental Quality Act requires 25 additional GreenPoints in addition to those set out in the schedule above or an increase in LEED points achieved by 10% of the total points available in the required LEED system. However, some points can be credited to the project if it retains and reuses certain historical features, such as windows, doors, and trim.

Demolition of nonhistorical property requires 20 GreenPoints in addition to those set out in the schedule above or an increase in LEED points achieved by 10% of the LEED points necessary to obtain the LEED certification required in the schedule above. However, this number can be reduced if the new building achieves higher density. The application need only earn 17 additional GreenPoints or an 8% increase in LEED points if the density of the new building is triple that of the old building or 15 GreenPoints or a 6% increase in LEED points if the density is quadrupled. 

Recycling and Composting: Effective by the operative date, all building permit applicants for new High-Rise Residential Buildings must submit documentation that designates adequate on-site space for separation, storage, and loading of trash, recyclables and compostable waste.

Storm water management: Effective by the operative date, all building permit applicants for new High-Rise Buildings must meet the “Best Management Practices” and “Stormwater Design Guidelines” of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. (See San Francisco Storm Water Management Plan and San Francisco Storm Water Design Guidelines.) In addition, storm water management must meet or exceed the LEED SS 6.1 and 6.2 guidelines. Guideline SS 6.1 addresses imperviousness: if existing imperviousness of the site is less than or equal to 50%, the guideline requires: 1) prevention of the post-development peak discharge rate and quantity from exceeding that of pre-development, or 2) protection of receiving stream channels from excessive erosion. If existing imperviousness exceeds 50%, then Guideline SS 6.1 requires a 25% decrease in the volume of stormwater runoff from the two-year 24-hour design storm. In addition, Guideline SS 6.2 requires a management plan that captures and treats stormwater runoff from 90% of the average annual rainfall, removing 80% of the average annual post-development total suspended solids based on existing monitoring reports.

Water efficient landscaping: Effective by the operative date, all building permit applicants for new High-Rise Residential Buildings must submit documentation verifying achievement of a 50% reduction in use of potable water for landscaping from a calculated mid-summer baseline case. See LEED WE 1.1, which states that reductions can be gained from plant species selection, irrigation efficiency, use of captured rainwater, use of recycled wastewater, and use of water treated and conveyed by a public agency specifically for non-potable use.

Water use reduction: Effective by the operative date, all building permit applicants for new High-Rise Residential Buildings must submit documentation demonstrating use of 20% less potable water than the water use baseline calculated for the building (not including irrigation) after meeting the Energy Policy Act of 1992 fixture performance requirements. See LEED WE 3.1, which states calculations are based on estimated occupant usage and includes only these fixtures, as applicable: water closets, urinals, lavatory faucets, showers and kitchen sinks. Effective January 1, 2011, achieve a 30% reduction in use of potable water using the above baseline.

Construction debris management: Effective January 1, 2009, all building permit applicants for new High-Rise Residential Buildings must achieve diversion of at least 75% of construction debris, redirecting such debris from landfills and incinerators back to the manufacturing process or reuse at appropriate sites. See LEED MR 2.2, which states that materials to be diverted do not include hazardous materials, excavated soil, or land-clearing debris. Calculations can be done by weight or volume, but must be consistent throughout.

New Commercial Buildings

Standards for the two types of commercial buildings, Mid-Size Commercial and New Large Commercial, are located at Section 1304C.2: Requirements for New Commercial Construction.

Mid-Size Commercial Buildings: includes commercial buildings that have more than 5,000 and less than 25,000 gross square feet and are not high-rise buildings, meaning the building contains less than 75 feet in height to the highest occupied floor.

LEED rating to be achieved: By the operative date, all building permit applicants for new Mid-Size Commercial Buildings must submit a LEED checklist, but no points are required to be achieved.

LEED rating to be achieved if the project involves demolition: As no points are required for Mid-Size Commercial Building, there is no increase in points for the Mid-Size Commercial Building projects that will involve demolition after the operative date prior to construction. However, some of the requirements below are heightened or accelerated for those projects. These increased requirements are described within the applicable subsection.

Recycling and Composting: Effective by the operative date, all building permit applicants for new Mid-Size Commercial Buildings must submit documentation that designates adequate on-site space for separation, storage, and loading of trash, recyclables and compostable waste.

Storm water management: Effective by the operative date, all building permit applicants for new Mid-Size Commercial Buildings must meet the “Best Management Practices” and “Stormwater Design Guidelines” of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. (See San Francisco Storm Water Management Plan and San Francisco Storm Water Design Guidelines.) In addition, storm water management must meet or exceed the LEED SS 6.1 and 6.2 guidelines. Guideline SS 6.1 addresses imperviousness: if existing imperviousness of the site is less than or equal to 50%, the guideline requires: 1) prevention of the post-development peak discharge rate and quantity from exceeding that of pre-development, or 2) protection of receiving stream channels from excessive erosion. If existing imperviousness exceeds 50%, then Guideline SS 6.1 requires a 25% decrease in the volume of stormwater runoff from the two-year 24-hour design storm. In addition, Guideline SS 6.2 requires a management plan that captures and treats stormwater runoff from 90% of the average annual rainfall, removing 80% of the average annual post-development total suspended solids based on existing monitoring reports.

Fundamental commissioning: Effective January 1, 2009, all building permit applicants for new Mid-Size Commercial Buildings must submit documentation from a Commissioning Agent demonstrating compliance with LEED EA Prerequisite 1. Commissioning basically means reviewing the building design and plans early in the design process to ensure that everything is working correctly and efficiently. See LEED EA Prerequisite 1, which sets forth myriad requirements in order to verify that the building’s energy related systems are installed, calibrated and perform according to project requirements, construction documents, and the LEED for New Construction 2.2 Reference Guide.

Water efficient landscaping: Effective January 1, 2009, all building permit applicants for new Mid-Size Commercial Buildings must submit documentation verifying achievement of a 50% reduction in use of potable water for landscaping from a calculated mid-summer baseline case. See LEED WE 1.1, which states that reductions can gained from plant species selection, irrigation efficiency, use of captured rainwater, use of recycled wastewater, and use of water treated and conveyed by a public agency specifically for non-potable use.

Water use reduction: Where the project does not involve demolition: Effective January 1, 2009, all building permit applicants for new Mid-Size Commercial Buildings must submit documentation demonstrating use of 20% less potable water than the water use baseline calculated for the building (not including irrigation) after meeting the Energy Policy Act of 1992 fixture performance requirements. See LEED WE 3.1, which states calculations are based on estimated occupant usage and includes only these fixtures, as applicable: water closets, urinals, lavatory faucets, showers and kitchen sinks. Effective January 1, 2011, achieve a 30% reduction in use of potable water using the above baseline. Where the project involves demolition of a nonhistorical building: 30% reduction in use of potable water must be achieved two years earlier, January 1, 2009.

Construction debris management: Effective January 1, 2009, all building permit applicants for new Mid-Size Commercial Buildings must achieve diversion of at least 75% of construction debris, redirecting such debris from landfills and incinerators back to the manufacturing process or reuse at appropriate sites. See LEED MR 2.2, which states that materials to be diverted do not include hazardous materials, excavated soil, or land-clearing debris. Calculations can be done by weight or volume, but must be consistent throughout.

Enhanced commissioning: Where the project does not involve demolition: Effective January 1, 2011, all building permit applicants for new Mid-Size Commercial Buildings must achieve enhanced commissioning. Commissioning basically means reviewing the building design and plans early in the design process to ensure that everything is working correctly and efficiently. See LEED EA 3, which sets forth myriad requirements in order to verify that the building’s energy related systems are installed, calibrated and perform according to project requirements, construction documents, and the LEED for New Construction 2.2 Reference Guide. Where the project involves demolition of a nonhistorical building: Enhanced commissioning must be achieved one year earlier, January 1, 2010.

Energy: Where the project does not involve demolition: Effective January 1, 2012, all building permit applicants for new Mid-Size Commercial Buildings must verify renewable onsite energy or purchase green energy credits. To verify renewable onsite use, LEED EA 2 requires on-site self-supply of 2.5% to 12.5% renewable energy. In the alternative, applicants can follow LEED EA 6, with requires at least 35% of the building’s electricity to come from renewable sources via a two-year minimum renewable energy contract. To determine the baseline for calculation of energy use and targets, EA 2 and EA 6 recommend using the detailed compliance path guide in LEED EA 1 or the Department of Energy (DOE) Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS).

Where the project involves demolition of a nonhistorical building: These energy requirements must be achieved one year earlier, January 1, 2011.

Materials and resources: This requirement applies only where a project involves demolition of a pre-existing building. Where a nonhistorical resource is demolished: Effective January 1, 2012, permit applicants for new Mid-Size Commercial Buildings must achieve one additional LEED credit in accordance with LEED MR 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7. Those MR credit points address the type of building materials used in the project, i.e., whether wood is environmentally certified and whether building materials are reused, contain recycled content, are located regionally, and come from rapidly renewable sources. Where a historical resource is demolished: Effective January 1, 2009, applicants for new Mid-Size Commercial Buildings must achieve one additional LEED credit in accordance with LEED MR 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7. Effective January 2012, these applicants must achieve two additional LEED credits in accordance with MR 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7.

New Large Commercial Buildings: includes commercial buildings or additions that are 25,000 gross square feet or more or that are over 75 feet in height.

LEED rating to be achieved: Effective by the operative date, all building permit applications for new Large Commercial Buildings must at least submit documentation to achieve “LEED Certified” certification. Starting January 1, 2009, permit applicants will be required to demonstrate efficiency measures according to the following schedule:

January 1, 2009: Measures resulting in a rating of LEED Silver

January 1, 2012: Measures resulting in a rating of LEED Gold

LEED rating to be achieved if the project involves demolition: Where construction is to take place within five years of demolition (after the operative date) of a pre-existing building, such applications will require a greater number of LEED points.

Demolition of property that fulfills the definition of “historical resource” under the California Environmental Quality Act requires an increase in LEED points achieved by 10% of the total points available in the required LEED system. However, some points can be credited to the project if it retains and reuses certain historical features, such as windows, doors, and trim.

Demolition of nonhistorical property requires an increase in LEED points achieved by 10% of the points necessary to obtain the certification required in the schedule above. However, this number can be reduced if the new building achieves higher density. The application need only achieve an 8% increase in LEED points if the density of the new building is triple that of the old building or a 6% increase in LEED points if the density is quadrupled.

Recycling and Composting: Effective by the operative date, all building permit applicants for new Large Commercial Buildings must submit documentation that designates adequate on-site space for separation, storage, and loading of trash, recyclables and compostable waste.

Storm water management: Effective by the operative date, all building permit applicants for new Large Commercial Buildings must meet the “Best Management Practices” and “Stormwater Design Guidelines” of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. (See San Francisco Storm Water Management Plan and San Francisco Storm Water Design Guidelines.) In addition, storm water management must meet or exceed the LEED SS 6.1 and 6.2 guidelines. Guideline SS 6.1 addresses imperviousness: if existing imperviousness of the site is less than or equal to 50%, the guideline requires: 1) prevention of the post-development peak discharge rate and quantity from exceeding that of pre-development, or 2) protection of receiving stream channels from excessive erosion. If existing imperviousness exceeds 50%, then Guideline SS 6.1 requires a 25% decrease in the volume of stormwater runoff from the two-year 24-hour design storm. In addition, Guideline SS 6.2 requires a management plan that captures and treats stormwater runoff from 90% of the average annual rainfall, removing 80% of the average annual post-development total suspended solids based on existing monitoring reports.

Water efficient landscaping: Effective by the operative date, all building permit applicants for new Large Commercial Buildings must submit documentation verifying achievement of a 50% reduction in use of potable water for landscaping from a calculated mid-summer baseline case. See LEED WE 1.1, which states that reductions can be attributed to plant species, irrigation efficiency, use of captured rainwater, use of recycled wastewater, and use of water treated and conveyed by a public agency specifically for non-potable use.

Water use reduction: Effective by the operative date, all building permit applicants for new Large Commercial Buildings must submit documentation demonstrating use of 20% less potable water than the water use baseline calculated for the building (not including irrigation) after meeting the Energy Policy Act of 1992 fixture performance requirements. See LEED WE 3.1, which states calculations are based on estimated occupant usage and includes only these fixtures, as applicable: water closets, urinals, lavatory faucets, showers and kitchen sinks. Effective January 1, 2011, achieve a 30% reduction in use of potable water using the above baseline.

Construction debris management: Effective by the operative date, all building permit applicants for new Large Commercial Buildings must achieve diversion of at least 75% of construction debris, redirecting such debris from landfills and incinerators back to the manufacturing process or reuse at appropriate sites. See LEED MR 2.2, which states that materials to be diverted do not include hazardous materials, excavated soil, or land-clearing debris. Calculations can be done by weight or volume, but must be consistent throughout.

Enhanced commissioning: Effective January 1, 2010, all building permit applicants for new Large Commercial Buildings must achieve enhanced commissioning. Commissioning basically means reviewing the building design and plans early in the design process to ensure that everything is working correctly and efficiently. See LEED EA 3, which sets forth myriad requirements in order to verify that the building’s energy related systems are installed, calibrated and perform according to project requirements, construction documents, and the LEED for New Construction 2.2 Reference Guide.

Energy: Effective January 1, 2012, all building permit applicants for new Large Commercial Buildings must verify renewable on-site energy or purchase green energy credits. To verify renewable onsite use, LEED EA 2 requires on-site self-supply of 2.5% to 12.5% renewable energy. In the alternative, applicants can follow LEED EA 6, with requires at least 35% of the building’s electricity to come from renewable sources via a two-year minimum renewable energy contract. To determine the baseline for calculation of energy use and targets, EA 2 and EA 6 recommend using the detailed compliance path guide in LEED EA 1 or the DOE CBECS.

New Large Commercial Interiors and Major Alterations to Existing Buildings

Standards for interiors and major alterations are located at Section 1304C.3. As mentioned above, major alteration means alterations to existing buildings of 25,000 gross square feet or more in area, where interior finishes are removed and significant upgrades will be made to structural and mechanical, electrical and/or plumbing systems.

LEED rating to be achieved: Effective by the operative date, all building permit applicants for new Large Commercial Interiors or Major Alterations to Existing Buildings must at least submit documentation to achieve “LEED Certified” certification. Starting January 1, 2009, permit applicants will be required to demonstrate efficiency measures according to the following schedule:

January 1, 2009: Measures resulting in a rating of LEED Silver

January 1, 2012: Measures resulting in a rating of LEED Gold

Use of low-emitting materials: Effective by the operative date, all building permit applicants for new Large Commercial Interiors or Major Alterations to Existing Buildings must submit documentation to verify use of low-emitting materials. See LEED EQ 4.1, 4.2, and 4.3, which sets forth specific requirements for 1) adhesives, sealants, and sealant primers, 2) aerosol adhesives, 3) interior paints, coatings, and primers, 4) interior anti-corrosive and anti-rust paints, 5) interior clear wood finishes, floor coatings, stains, and shellacs, 6) interior carpet, 7) interior carpet cushion, and 8) carpet adhesive.