County of Marin - Press Releases - Building Codes

For Immediate Release
August 12, 2014

Proposed Building Code Promotes Sustainability

Alternative ‘green’ codes on Aug. 19 Board of Supervisors agenda

San Rafael, CA - “Green-minded” contractors in Marin County might soon have more freedom to embark on sustainably sensitive building projects using the newest technology and still be in good standing with permit officials at the Civic Center.

The Marin County Board of Supervisors are expected to vote on a building code amendment Aug. 19 that would provide more freedom to those who have successfully maneuvered through the planning process and are seeking to construct dwellings and other structures that leave the smallest carbon footprint.

Bill Kelley, the Deputy Director of Building Inspection and Safety within the County’s Community Development Agency (CDA), said Congressman Jared Huffman was instrumental in planting the seed for the voluntary alternative building codes back when Huffman was a state Assemblyman representing Marin County.

If a person wanted to build with less of an impact on the environment than normal construction, the new code amendments would make it easier to adopt those methods, Kelley explained. “And we have a lot of people here who want to do it that way,” he said. “The typical building process uses way too much carbon and is not sustainable. The motivation is to open the pathway for a broader discussion on sustainable building practices. We have to have ways to put into practice the next models of construction and move forward toward living lighter on the planet.”

Marin County issues about 3,000 building permits each year. On average, only about 20 of those are for new homes, Kelley said. The majority of building permits are for alterations on existing homes, but the state building code is not set up to optimize or encourage the most popular sustainable construction practices for these types of projects.

“Marin seems to care more about the impact of building and overall sustainability than the rest of the state,” Kelley said. “People here want to build so sustainably that they only use a fraction of the carbon a home would normally use. There are people who have the desire to build a zero-carbon home, using recycled materials and without the need for heating systems.”

Construction of such homes is almost impossible while adhering to existing state building code, leaving “green” builders stuck or contemplating the idea of building without formal approval.

“The alternative codes would give us the authority to allow this to happen as long as we determine their structure is safe,” Kelley said. “The new codes would have to be compatible with the state laws and codes, but creativity on sustainable practices would be rewarded rather than frowned upon.”

The draft alternative code provided by County CDA says it would support the use of alternative construction design, materials and methods that do the following:

  • Protect the environment
  • Improve the economic viability of sustainable construction
  • Aid affordability of construction improvements
  • Increase participation and consumer protection through promoting lawful construction activity
  • Enhance owner equity in the improvement of property
  • Provide mandatory minimum requirements for the protection of life, limb, health, property, safety and welfare of the general public

CDA proposes to create a new commission, called the Architectural Commission, comprised of two licensed architects, one licensed professional engineer, one licensed contractor and one member of the general public. The commission would weigh the architectural or historical significance of a building or design to see if it falls under the preservation provisions of the alternative building code.

“A lot of people in our professional design community would be very happy with this,” Kelley said. “Code officials would just have to make sure any structures are safe, structurally sound and environmentally correct. The alternative code would provide a direct link to the sustainable practices that are unique to our county values. It would connect the dots between our mission and our building codes. It would permit the use of ingenuity in a way that isn’t encouraged enough now.”

Kelley added that the alternative code would promote all four of the County’s commitment to “The Four E’s” – Environment, Economy, Equity and Education. “It’s really connected to all of them,” he said. 

 The first reading of the ordinance amendment took place July 22 and the merit hearing is scheduled for Aug. 19 in the Board of Supervisors chambers, Suite 330, at the Marin County Civic Center. If adopted, CDA would begin recruiting for members of the Architectural Commission and the alternative codes would go into effect Oct. 1.


Brian Crawford

County of Marin

Marin County Civic Center
3501 Civic Center Drive
San Rafael, CA 94903