Planning and Building > Our Services > Green Building > Green Building FAQ

Green Building Frequently Asked Questions

When does the green building ordinance become effective?

The green building ordinance for private development was approved by City Council on October 19, 2010. Starting January 1, 2011 and ongoing the ordinance requirements will be mandatory. See Section 18.02.100 of the ordinance. All projects will need to submit a completed checklist, meet the minimum points outlined in the thresholds, complete and implement all the green building points to achieve the threshold, and receive third-party certification. See the Policies and Requirements webpage for more information.


What projects does the ordinance apply to and what projects are exempt?

In general the ordinance applies to the following project types. However, please view the Thresholds located on the Policies and Requirements webpage for the specific square footages and minimum point requirements that determine compliance with the ordinance.

  • Residential New Construction
  • Residential Additions and Alterations to Single-Family Homes
  • Non-Residential New Construction
  • Non-Residential Additions and Alterations
  • Removal of a Historic Resource and New Construction
  • Historic Residential Additions and Alterations to Single-Family Homes
  • Historic Non-Residential Additions and Alterations
  • Affordable Housing Construction receiving City/Redevelopment Agency Funds
  • Mixed-Use Construction
  • Construction requiring a Landscape Plan

The ordinance does not apply to the following project types:

  • Fences, decks, arbors, pergolas, retaining walls, and signs.
  • Secondary dwelling units, as defined in the Oakland Planning Code Section 17.102.360.
  • Repair or replacement of roof covering, fenestration, and façade materials.
  • Group U detached accessory buildings which do not exceed 1,000 square feet of floor area.
  • Construction, additions, and alterations which are exempted from the permitting requirements both of the Oakland Building Construction Code and the Oakland Planning Code.
  • Factory-built buildings approved by the State of California and manufactured housing approved by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.
  • City and Redevelopment Agency capital improvement construction, alterations, and additions which are subject to Chapter 15.68 of the Oakland Municipal Code or the Bay-Friendly Landscaping Guidelines.
  • Seismic retrofits only.
  • Fire repairs to buildings that are damaged less than 75% of the current replacement cost per Section 17.114.120 of the Oakland Planning Code.



When do I need to have a LEED Accredited Professional or a GreenPoint Rater on my project?

Starting January 1, 2011, projects that must comply with the ordinance must have a GreenPoint Rater or a LEED Accredited Professional (AP) as part of the project team at the beginning of the entire permit process. These persons are known as Green Building Certifiers in the ordinance and will be responsible for ensuring that the project complies with the ordinance at the planning entitlement, plancheck, and inspectors phase. This person will need to meet with City staff to discuss the green building points that are noted on the checklists. This person will also most likely be submitting the documentation to Build It Green or the U. S. Green Building Council. 


The State of California recently adopted CALGreen into the Building Code. How does Oakland's ordinance relate to CALGreen?

The City of Oakland's Green Building Ordinance does not reference the 2010 California Building Code.  However, the City did adopt this Code including Part 11, the Green Building Standards, also known as CALGreen. Unfortunately, the language in the green building checklists referenced in the local ordinance and the state requirements are not entirely consistent with each other. Practically, this means that 1)projects that may or may not be covered under Oakland's local green building ordinance will still have to meet the CALGreen mandatory measures, and 2) that the applicant will need to demonstrate compliance with the language in both requirements, as applicable. Below is the list of projects that are required to comply with CALGreen. 

  • All Residential New Construction
  • All Non-Residential New Construction
  • Non Residential Existing Buildings that are requesting a permit for ≥1,000 sq. ft. additions or alterations which have a permit valuation or cost of construction ≥$200,000.
  • Residential Additions or Alterations that increase size or volume of conditioned area.

For residential new construction projects, the CALGreen mandatory measures have been folded into the GreenPoint Rated checklists. These measures are noted as "Required" so it should not be difficult to implement both the local and state green building requirements. Detached secondary units must comply with the CALGreen mandatory residential measures but are exempt from Oakland's Green Building Ordinance.

Residential additions and alteration projects that include attached secondary units or increase the size or volume of conditioned space and are under 1,000 sq. ft. will need to comply with the CALGreen mandatory residential measures but are exempt from Oakland's Green Building Ordinance. CALGreen also applies to multi-family additions and alterations. Residential addition and/or alteration projects that are over 1,000 sq. ft. will need to comply with the GreenPoint Rated Program. Again the CALGreen mandatory measures have been folded into the GreenPoint Rated checklist.

For new non-residential construction projects between 5,000 and 25,000 sq. ft., Oakland's local ordinance requires implementation of all applicable measures on the StopWaste.Org Small Commercial Checklist. However, the CALGreen non-residential mandatory measures are required for all new construction regardless of size. If a new construction project is 5,000 sq. ft., only the CALGreen measures need to be implemented. For projects over 5,000 sq. ft. the applicant is required to meet both the local ordinance and the CALGreen requirements. The same is true for a non-residential new construction projects over 25,000 sq. ft. that are required to achieve a LEED certification under the local ordinance.

Existing non-residential buildings with an addition between 1,000 and 5,000 sq. ft.  or an alteration over $200,000 over will need to comply with CALGreen.  However, projects that include an addition or alteration over  5,000 sq. ft. will also need to comply with Oakland's local ordinance.

Applicants must document all green building requirements on their plans, notes, and specifications submittals. Staff will be plan checking the documents, notes, specifications for compliance with all green building requirements. Please review the following documents to see how CALGreen compares to the LEED and Build It Green Checklists.



What is the difference between the LEED, Build It Green, and the StopWaste.Org rating systems?

The City is using different green building rating programs because the City contains a wide variety of development types such as small commercial, high-rise commercial, industrial buildings, single-family dwellings, multi-family dwellings, etc. There was not a single green building rating program that was both applicable to these different types of development and practical. Hence, the City is using multiple green building rating programs.

LEED is a national green building program developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and is typically used for commercial, civic, and high-rise residential projects. However, the USGBC has expanded the number of rating systems to include schools, retail, healthcare, homes, and neighborhood development. LEED is a point based system. Projects must pre-qualify by meeting several pre-requisites. The project team then designs green features into the project to qualify for points. The points are tallied to achieve a green building rating.  The USGBC reviews the documentation and certifies that the project is a LEED building having met the requirements. LEED is not tied directly to the California Building Code. This means that a project might need to implement extra green features to meet both the LEED and the California Building Code requirements.

Build It Green developed the GreenPoint Rated green building rating system. GreenPoint Rated is based solely in California with practices that exceeds the California Building Code.  This program is standard for residential projects. They do not have a rating system for commercial projects. GreenPoint Rated is a point based system. Projects must pre-qualify by meeting several pre-requisites. The project team then designs green features into the project to qualify for points. The points are tallied to achieve a green building rating.  Build it Green reviews the documentation and certifies that the project is a GreenPoint Rated building having met the requirements. A GreenPoint Rater is required.

StopWaste.Org of Alameda County Waste Management Authority has developed the Small Commercial Checklist for commercial projects where LEED is infeasible or practical and the Bay Friendly Basic Landscape Checklist for landscape projects. Neither of these checklists are point based. A measure is either applicable and must be incorporated into the project or not applicable. In general both checklist contain best management practices and low hanging fruit.


What do I need to submit to comply with the ordinance?

The ordinance describes specifically what should be submitted during the planning entitlement phase in Section 18.02.110 and the plancheck and inspections phase in Section 18.02.150. In general, a project applicant shall submit:

  • A completed copy of the green building checklist at each phase of the permitting process.
  • Permit plans that show in general notes, individual drawings, details, and specifications as appropriate, the green building measures that will be implemented to achieve compliance with the ordinance.
  • A signed statement by the Green Building Certifier (i.e. the GreenPoint Rater or LEED AP) at each phase of the permitting process that the project meets the minimum requirements of the ordinance.
  • Other documentation as needed to determine compliance
  • Documentation for Title 24.

Are there any additional permit fees?

No. There are no additional permit fees for a planning permit, a construction permit, or an inspection.


Can I apply for an unreasonable hardship exemption?

Yes. A project applicant can apply for an unreasonable hardship exemption but an applicant can only do so during the planning entitlement phase. After planning entitlements have been granted, the project cannot request an unreasonable hardship exemption from this ordinance during the plancheck or the inspections phase. Also an applicant cannot apply for an unreasonable hardship exemption from Title 24 or other building code requirements. An applicant wishing to apply must submit a completed Unreasonable Hardship Exemption Application available through the Planning and Zoning Division. The applicant must also pay the fee associated with this application. After public notice, the Director of Planning will accept or deny the application based solely on information provided by the applicant. This information needs to show that there are unusual circumstances and the public interest is not served by compliance with the ordinance. For projects involving a historic resource, the Director of planning may refer the request to the Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board for their recommendation. If the Director of Planning of approves the exemption he/she shall also determine the maximum feasible number of credits that will be achievable for the project. In other words, even if an exemption is granted then the project applicant shall still have to implementation some green building features into the project. This decision by the Director of Planning is appealable to the Planning Commission and again only during the entitlement phase.


What happens if I receive a non-approval during the planning entitlement, plancheck or inspections phase?

During the planning entitlement phase, the project application will not be considered complete until all documents needed to verify compliance with the ordinance have been submitted. Planning staff will review these documents and if the project fails to meet the green building requirements per the information submitted, a Planning approval with not be given. The project applicant must revise the plans and resubmit with modification and additions that show that the project meets the ordinance. The same process applies to the plancheck phase.

During the inspection phase, a Stop Work order may be issued if the Inspector determines that the project is not meeting the requirements in the ordinance. At the discretion of the Inspector, the Stop Work order may apply to the portion of the project not in compliance or to the entire project. The Stop Work order shall remain in effect until the project applicant submits documentation or implements green building points showing compliance with the ordinance.


Can I substitute or eliminate green building points during the planning entitlement, plancheck, and inspections phase?

Yes. The City understands that as a project goes from conceptual design through the construction documents process and into construction that a lot can change. Therefore, substitution or elimination of points is permitted. However, there are some criteria:

  • The project applicant must meet the minimum requirement for certification. For example, a new single-family home must meet 50 points per Build It Green's GreenPoint Rated Single-Family Home New Construction Checklist. A project applicant can not eliminate points to go below this Threshold. Staff recommends trying to achieve extra green building points so that the project has a buffer. In this way the project applicant will be more assured of reaching certification.
  • The project applicant must meet the minimum number of green building points in each green building category within the specific rating system. For example, in Build It Green's Single-Family New Construction Checklist a project must meet 9 points in the Water category. The applicant can not go below 9 points for this category. Neither can the project applicant go below 9 and add a point in the Energy category to try and meet the 50 points. All of the minimum points in each category must be achieved.
  • For affordable housing projects that involve City funds, please check with the Housing and Community Development Division for the implications of substitution or elimination of points with that process. Those rules govern in this instance.
  • The substitution or elimination shall only occur at the request of the applicant and the applicant shall submit a Request for Revision Plancheck indicating the green building points to be omitted or changed. This request will be reviewed by the Building Services Division, the Planning and Zoning Division and if the project involves a historic resource, a Historic Preservation Planner.



If I'm only remodeling a portion of the structure, is the total square footage of the structure included in the Threshold calculation? 

No. Only the portion of the proposed addition or alteration work is included in the square footage amount. For example, if the applicant has a 2,000 square foot single-family home and is remodeling 550 square feet and adding 550 square feet, then the total proposed work would be 1,100 square feet. Per the Thresholds the 1,100 square foot proposed project would only need to comply with the ordinance, not the whole house.


Does the City allow rainwater harvesting or greywater systems?

The City can approve a system for indoor rainwater reuse (flushing of toilets and urinals) with an application of an Alternate Methods and Materials Request from the Building Services Division based on the American Rainwater Catchment Association standards such as ultra-violet disinfection, 5 and 20 micron filtration, a maintenance contract and a maintenance schedule. There are no special requirements for using rainwater for irrigation unless potable water is used as makeup water to a rainwater storage tank.  Contact Building Services for Cross Connection Prevention requirements.

Greywater systems for indoor use must meet the standards established in the California Code of Regulations, Title 22 Section 60301.230 and meet the criteria for disinfected tertiary recycled water. These regulations and standards, for the most part, can only be achieved by the water purveyor and treatment facility. Greywater systems for irrigation must be permitted and comply with chapter 16A of the California Plumbing Code.



Does the City allow composting toilets?

No. The City does not allow composting toilets. Per Section 13.08.340 of the Oakland Municipal Code all buildings with plumbing shall have a connection to a public sanitary sewer or to a private common sewer which discharges into a public sanitary sewer.



When is final compliance with the ordinance determined for my project?

After January 1, 2011 a project that must be certified by either Build It Green for GreenPoint Rated projects or the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) for LEED projects is only considered certified when the project applicant submits the final green building certification from those organizations to City staff. The City understands that this may take a while and will not hold up a final occupancy permit for the project. Instead this requirement is considered similar to an ongoing Condition of Project Approval. For the Small Commercial Checklist and the Bay Friendly Basic Landscape Checklist, City staff will certify compliance before the final occupancy permit for the project. The Environmental Services Division will certify the deconstruction requirement as this would be part of the Construction and Demolition Waste permit.



Does the City offer any incentives for green building?

At this time the only incentives that the City offers is recognition of the constructed project. The City also offers Property Tax Credits for historic building preservation per the Mills Act. See the Incentives and Rebates webpage for for more information.