Green Buildings & Indoor Air Quality

This page last reviewed May 9, 2014

Green building is the practice of building or renovating structures to be energy and resource efficient throughout a building's life-cycle from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation and deconstruction. Most green buildings use building materials and consumer products that generally do not release chemicals and pollutants at levels which will harm human health. “Green buildings” are sometimes referred to as “sustainable” or “high performance” buildings.

California Green Building Standards Code: CALGreen

CALGreen Report

The State of California has developed a Green Building Standards Code, also known as the CALGreen Code (Part 11 of Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations), that applies to new commercial and residential buildings throughout the State. CALGreen aims to improve energy efficiency and public health, safety and welfare by enhancing the design and construction of buildings through sustainable practices. CALGreen includes both required measures and voluntary measures, a number of which help assure healthful indoor air quality, such as those addressing chemical emissions from composite wood products, carpets, resilient flooring materials, paints, adhesives, sealants, and insulation, and also ventilation. In April 2012, the Governor issued Executive Order B-18-12 regarding green buildings which specifically directs State agencies to implement feasible voluntary measures from CALGreen that ensure healthy indoor environments for occupants. Recently adopted amendments to CALGreen and future proposals can be accessed at the CALGreen website. It is anticipated that some voluntary measures such as higher efficiency air filtration to improve indoor air quality will become mandatory in future code cycles, and that the CALGreen requirements may apply to renovations and additions as well.

Green Schools

CHPS Logo

The Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) is a California-based national organization that works nationally to improve student performance and the entire educational experience by promoting the construction and operation of the best possible school facilities with the smallest impact on the planet. CHPS offers resources, many of them free to schools, including the CA-CHPS Criteria, design and construction criteria for high performance schools in California; a Best Practices Manual to help schools, districts and practitioners achieve high performance school design, construction and operation; a high performance products database, to find healthful and green building products; and the Operations Report Card, an online benchmarking and improvement tool for existing schools.

Material Emissions Guidelines

The California Department of Public Health's Indoor Air Quality Group developed a Standard Method for Testing Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) Emissions (also often referred to as California Section 01350), which serves as the basis for building material emissions limits in green building programs such as CALGreen, CHPS, and others. Laboratories use this method to test the emissions of VOCs from building materials and furnishings intended for use in new construction to determine whether they meet maximum allowable concentrations that assure healthful indoor air quality.

The above efforts, as well as other green building programs and resources such as those listed below, will help to ensure healthful indoor air quality in future new and renovated buildings for Californians.

Other Resources

Many groups are involved in green building programs and green product programs. Each of the websites below provides useful additional information on green buildings, building materials, and/or indoor air quality.

Green Building Programs

  • Build It GREEN: BIG is a Bay Area non-profit organization that works with building and real estate professionals, local and state governments, and homeowners to increase awareness and adoption of green building practices. They promote healthful, energy- and resource-efficient building practices in California through outreach and education and offer the GreenPoint Rated Homes system with a focus on indoor air quality, safer materials and optimal ventilation.
  • U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED): USBGC is a national non-profit that offers a green building program and education to encourage the construction of green buildings, green schools (LEED for Schools), and communities. LEED is a certification program for buildings, homes and communities that guides the design, construction, operations and maintenance of these entities.
  • National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), National Green Building Program (NAHBGreen): NAHB is a trade association helping to promote the policies that make housing a national priority. NAHBGreen is a program that includes educational resources, advocacy tools, a green standard, and referrals to a national green home certification system. They offer the ICC 700 National Green Building Standard which can be used to rate residences.
  • Green Globes: In the U.S., Green Globes is managed through the Green Building Initiative. They offer an assessment and rating system for commercial buildings.

Green Building Product and Material Resources

  • GREENGUARD: The GREENGUARD Environmental Institute is now part of UL Environment and works to protect human health by improving indoor air quality and reducing chemical exposure. Through their Certification Program they have developed a database of low-emitting interior products and emissions.
  • Scientific Certification Systems (SCS): SCS offers independent certification and verification of environmental and sustainability claims, among others. They have a certified products database to help people find green building products.
  • Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI): CRI is a non-profit trade association that offers resources for residential and commercial customers to find low-VOC emitting products. CRI’s Green Label Plus rating system incorporates most of the California Department of Public Health’s (CDPH) emissions limits for new carpet.
  • Whole Building Design Guide (WBDG): WBDG is a web-based portal providing government and industry practitioners with one-stop access to up-to-date information on a wide range of building-related guidance, criteria and technology from a 'whole buildings' perspective. They offer information on low-emitting materials.

Codes, Reports and General Information

  • International Green Construction Code (IGCC): The IGCC is offered by the International Code Council (ICC), a member-focused association dedicated to helping the building safety community and construction industry provide safe, sustainable and affordable construction through the development of codes and standards used in the design, build and compliance process. The IGCC is the first national/international green building code; it includes sustainability measures for the entire construction project and the project’s site.
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): This U.S. EPA website provides extensive information on green buildings, including the history of green building and relevant programs and policies at the federal level.
  • The Institute of Medicine’s report on Climate Change, the Indoor Environment, and Health. The IOM is the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, and provides unbiased and authoritative advice to decision makers and the public on health-related matters. The focus of this report is the impact of climate change on indoor air quality and health.
  • ARB California Green Building Strategy: Buildings represent the second largest source of California’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Significant GHG emission reductions can be achieved through sustainable construction, operation, and renovation of new and existing buildings. ARB’s AB 32 Scoping Plan provides information on actions to reduce building GHG emissions.
  • ARB Green Building Research: The ARB has funded or is collaborating on several research projects designed to obtain information and develop tools needed to better reduce GHG emissions from buildings while avoiding the increase of other pollutant emissions.

If you need further information, please email Peggy Jenkins or call her at (916) 445-0753.
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