The County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors has approved the second phase of the Green Building Ordinance, which expands the County’s Green Building policies to private property development of non-single family residential buildings in the unincorporated areas.

These buildings include commercial, multi-family residential, industrial and institutional buildings. The first phase of the Ordinance was adopted in December 2008 and only applies to single-family residences.

The purpose of the Green Building Ordinance is to integrate green building principles and practices into new developments to help mitigate negative impacts to the environment. The Ordinance establishes green building certification requirements for new private developments in the unincorporated areas. The second phase of the Ordinance takes effect on September 28, 2010, starting with a voluntary period during which building permit applicants will only be required to submit a Green Building checklist. The requirements will become mandatory on January 1, 2011.

“The effects of climate change, such poorer air quality, are already being felt locally,” said President Ken Yeager, County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors.  “The Green Building Ordinance not only helps us reduce greenhouse gasses, but saves homeowners money over time through energy efficiency.”

According to federal statistics, in the United States, buildings account for 40 percent of total energy use, 14 percent of the total water consumption, 72 percent of total electricity consumption, and 39 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions. State study also shows that energy consumption from the non-residential sector in Santa Clara County was the highest among all Bay Area counties.

The second phase of the Ordinance requires a higher standard in water usage than the first phase. New non-residential buildings are required to reduce water usage by 25% over baseline standards. Buildings in areas where recycled water is or will be available are required to be pre-plumbed to use recycled water in toilets or other non-potable fixtures.

“The Green Building standards vary based on the size of a project,” said Tom Whisler, Santa Clara County building official. “Very small developments only have minimal criteria. Larger multi-family and non-residential developments are subject to more stringent requirements.”

The new Ordinance requires higher standard for new multi-family residential developments that have more than two units. Non-residential developments of over 5,000 square feet are also subject to more stringent requirements.

The second phase of the Ordinance uses the same certification systems: GreenPoint Rated or Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) for Homes.GreenPoint Rated is a system from Build It Green, a non-profit organization that promotes healthy, energy-and resource-efficient building practices in California. LEED for Homes is a system created the United States Green Building Council. The rating systems of both certifications use checklists and point systems to quantify the level of green features in a building. The green features in the checklists include increased energy efficiency, water and natural resources conservation and the reduction of waste generated by construction projects. However, the Ordinance also allows applicants to use an alternative method than Build it Green or LEED as long as it meets the same standard.

“The Green Building Ordinance reflects months of meetings with members of the agricultural community, Stanford University and local architects and engineers,” said Supervisor Don Gage, Chairperson of the Board’s Housing, Land Use, Environment, and Transportation Committee. “We think that this new policy takes into account the needs of the development community while advancing the County’s goal of environmental protection.”


Green building is a practice of building construction, operation and design that intends to minimize the environmental impacts of the buildings upon the natural and human environment by preserving natural resources, reducing energy and water usage, and improving indoor environmental quality.

The first phase of the County’s Green Building Ordinance was approved by the Board of Supervisors in December 2008 and became mandatory on July 1, 2009. The first phase requires Green Building certification for all new homes over 1,200 square feet in the unincorporated County.