Marin County tightens ‘green’ building rules

Updated: Jun 2, 2018

POSTED: 03/18/18, 12:40 PM PDT

Author: Richard Halstead

Publication: Marin Independent Journal

A charging station for electric vehicles sits outside Mollie Stone’s Market in Greenbrae in 2013. New rules adopted by the Marin County Board of Supervisors aim to expand the availability of charging stations. (IJ photo/Frankie Frost)


Property owners building a home in Marin larger than 4,000 square feet will soon have to offset their total annual electricity use.

That is just one of several changes to Marin County’s green building standards approved by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. The moves create new energy efficiency requirements beyond state code for new single family, multifamily and commercial projects. The standards also mandate new green building and electric vehicle charging requirements for such projects.

“We’re being ambitious and pushing the envelope by requiring these measures through the building permitting process,” said Community Development Agency Director Brian Crawford.


Crawford said the new standards are a way for the county to implement its 2015 Climate Action Plan, which also sets greenhouse gas reduction targets greater than the state. The county has a target of reducing community greenhouse gas emissions to 30 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and reducing municipal emissions to 15 percent below 1990 levels.

The county sought but received virtually no comment on the green building changes from local builders.

“We did have some outreach from the county,” said Rick Wells, CEO of the Marin Builders Association. “The association did not take a position on the standards.”

Marin is one of fewer than 15 jurisdictions in California that have set both green building and energy efficiency standards that exceed those created by the state. The county has required residential projects to comply with increased green building and energy efficiency goals since 2002. In 2010, the county expanded its green building ordinance to include new construction, additions and renovations, and commercial and multifamily projects.

The building standards approved Tuesday originally came to the Board of Supervisors for approval on Feb. 13, but responding to criticism from the public, the board directed county staff to make contemplated electric vehicle charging requirements more extensive.

Initially, county staff had proposed requiring that new or significantly renovated multifamily buildings have 10 percent of their parking spaces be electric vehicle ready, with everything but the charger installed, and 10 percent of their spaces electric vehicle capable with conduits installed.

In a Feb. 12 letter, Dale Miller, president of the Golden Gate Electric Vehicle Association, wrote to Supervisor Damon Connolly, that “these requirements are completely inadequate for today’s needs. One of the most significant impediments to driving an electric car is not having access to electricity for charging at the driver’s residence.”

The standards approved by supervisors kept the 10 percent requirement for making parking spaces “EV ready,” while boosting the “EV capable” requirement to apply to 100 percent of parking spaces.

For multifamily and commercial remodels and additions, the requirements to make parking spaces electric vehicle ready or capable vary based on the scope of the project. For projects where the electrical service panel is being modified, capacity for future EV charging must be added to 20 percent of the spaces. For projects that are modifying 25 percent or more of the parking lot surface, conduit for future EV charging must be run to all parking spaces.

The new standards put more emphasis on improving energy efficiency. Currently, builders can get by with lower energy efficiency by overperforming in other categories. The new standards seek to prevent this by evaluating green building and energy efficiency performance separately.

At the same time, the standards avoid imposing prescriptive measures, such as a mandatory requirement for solar use, which some California jurisdiction have imposed in recent years. And the standards seek to discourage use of natural gas by including an option to build an all-electric new building, even though the state energy code currently makes that difficult.

“It’s going to require people to change how they build. Things that have been common practice for years will have to change,” said Jon Mitguard, a San Rafael consultant who works with architects and builders to meet green building requirements. “It will cost more to build that is for sure. But the result will be homes that are a lot more comfortable and lot more energy efficient.”

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