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CalGreen Sets Higher Standards

Posted by Matt Power

Feb 3, 2011 6:25:00 PM

CalGreen, California’s new building code, went into effect January 1, ushering in new energy- and water-saving mandates that will impact the entire building chain. The code addresses some typical issues, such as construction waste diversion and VOC limits, but also gets fairly specific on water conservation, limiting moisture content in houses, and environmental quality.

“I think there are changes that some people are surprised by,” says Dave Walls, executive director of the California Building Standards Commission. “The code is definitely different than what they are used to, but we worked with everyone—the environmental groups, labor unions, and building groups—to make sure the changes aren’t ‘wow’; they are reasonable and attainable … and substantive.”

Substantive changes include water-saving measures that require new products from manufacturers and behavior modification by consumers.

The code provides a prescriptive and a performance method to meet the requirements. Under the prescriptive method, products must meet these standards: Showerheads (2.0 gpm or less at @80 psi), faucets (1.5 or less gpm @ 60 psi), water closets (1.28 or less gal/flush), urinals (.5 or less gal/flush). If builders want to follow the performance method, they must complete a calculation to show a 20% reduction in the whole-home water use by using a supplied worksheet.

Manufacturers are scurrying to release products that meet the new standards and to push technology to meet even stricter standards that may follow this code over the next few years. According to Mike Reffner, group product manager for the wholesale business unit at Moen, attaining the 20% reduction in potable water use is Moen’s focus. “Moen’s EcoPerformance showers already have a 1.75 gpm flow rate, and that rate will be available in all suites by July 2011,” he says. Moen had already retooled its lavatory faucets to 1.5 gpm in 2009 to adhere to WaterSense standards and will adjust its kitchen faucets to the new 1.8 gpm requirement.

“By February, all our lav faucets will conform, as well as the majority of our shower trim kits,” Reffner says. “By June, everything in lav faucets and showering will be available in California compliant versions.”

Reffner believes states and municipalities will continue stringent water conservation practices as droughts test water reserves and the cost of supplying fresh water rises. “By 2012, Georgia’s SB370 will set a flow rate of 1.5 for lav faucets,” he points out. And other states are enacting similar laws.

Most concerning to Reffner is the rush to market required by the new codes. As the code requirements get tougher, product technology has to keep pace. He believes that fixture manufacturers and the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute need to make sure legislation doesn’t get ahead of technology. “Miami-Dade County in Florida tried to specify 1.0 showerheads but seems to have backed off as there isn’t a showerhead available that will give a good shower at that flow rate. Also, at that rate, there could be safety issues as the pressure balancing system won’t work at pressures that low,” he says.

While manufacturers and builders rethink the products they produce and spec to comply with the new code, consumers, too, will have to make some changes. Multiple showerheads, which were not addressed in previous codes, must not exceed the required 20% indoor water use reduction. The flow of multiple showerheads must be combined and the sum of those combined flow rates cannot exceed the maximum showerhead flow rate specified in the code. Consumers will also have to limit water use for lawns and will now have to use irrigation controllers that delay an irrigation cycle during wet weather.

Reffner points out that the CalGreen code is for new construction, not remodeling, so higher flow water-delivery products will be alongside the code-compliant options on the shelves. Builders must be careful to specify the right products depending on the type of project. A simple chart detailing the changes CalGreen brings is available for download.

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