Article City Forum

Santa Rosa Encourages People to “Build It Green”

Growth and environmental protection are often at odds, but not in the City of Santa Rosa, where city leaders decided three years ago to bring the two into balance. The result was the voluntary Santa Rosa Build It Green (SR BIG) program.

At present, SR BIG has certified as “green” more than 75 dwelling units, and 850-plus additional dwelling units have applied for green status under the program.

What Is SR BIG?

A voluntary program, SR BIG promotes building and remodeling homes in a way that reduces energy demands, releases far fewer pollutants into the atmosphere, conserves water and reduces construction waste. The resulting structures are easier to maintain, less expensive to operate, produce less air pollution and are healthier to occupy. This may seem impossible or impossibly expensive for most people, but it is neither.

The program follows a set of simple but comprehensive Green Building Guidelines that provide a roadmap for building design and construction. These guidelines were hammered out by developers, environmentalists, bankers, planners, educators, architects, engineers, maintenance personnel, designers, government officials and city staff. The result is a consistent and flexible tool that can deliver significantly better results and a better bottom line than the conventional building process. The guidelines SR BIG uses are adaptable to any geographic/climatic region or distinctive culture.

What Does an SR BIG Home Look Like?

The short answer is “like any other home.” The SR BIG program has certified large custom homes, production subdivision homes, affordable homes (built by Habitat for Humanity) and municipal remodeled dwellings, such as the Santa Rosa Samuel Jones Hall Homeless Shelter.

SR BIG also embraces the very active remodeling market by reaching out to the public in workshops and educating local home improvement suppliers. Remodelers can gain SR BIG certification by adding more insulation, installing low-flow and energy efficient fixtures and appliances, using paints and coating that emit low or no volatile organic compounds, and basically following the same guidelines, where possible, that exist for new construction.

How Are SR BIG Homes Evaluated?

Green homes differ from most conventional dwellings in how they perform in four rated categories. These categories and the required minimum points needed in each are:

  1. Energy Efficiency — 11 points (107 possible);
  2. Resource Conservation — 6 points (64 possible);
  3. Indoor Air Quality — 5 points (45 possible); and
  4. Water Efficiency — 3 points (31 possible).

An SR BIG home must achieve a total score of at least 50 points, which includes the minimum number of points in each of these four categories. A dwelling or project can get additional points to bring it up to the total minimum requirement of 50 points if it qualifies for community and/or innovation points.

How Does SR BIG Work?

The SR BIG program’s success is attributed to several key elements:

  •  It is voluntary. Mandatory programs can work but typically result in construction that achieves only the minimum requirements. A voluntary program allows the market to drive the standard, achieving better and better buildings as time goes by and builders find more efficient ways to do things. The competition to be “greener” is already manifesting in the city’s building culture.
  • It has a strong marketing component. Santa Rosa actively educates the public, suppliers, designers, contractors and everyone involved in the building process. This creates an informed public that demands greater performance from their homes.
  • The program uses trained personnel. Independent third party inspectors, who must pass a rigorous exam at Sonoma State University, perform the inspections. Currently, about 50 SR BIG inspectors have been trained and certified. Developers and builders hire the SR BIG inspectors to help them achieve and verify their project’s green status. The city recommends that the inspector is involved in a project as early as possible so that green scores can be maximized by better design and early integration of green elements.
  • The program provides certification. Once the project has been “scored” by the inspector, the SR BIG Executive Committee reviews each application, verifies the points gathered and awards the certificate, which is a source of pride to homeowners and can be used to enhance resale.
  • The program is dynamic and flexible. Santa Rosa is constantly looking for ways to improve the process and program. Currently, it’s focusing on ways to bring “green” to affordable housing projects. Green homes cost much less to operate and maintain and are healthier living environments. Individuals with low or fixed incomes have the greatest need for such savings.
  • Information is readily shared. SR BIG owes much of its success to regional and national partners and shared knowledge. An example is the shared product data base, an online tool developed by the regional green partners that helps a supplier or do-it-yourselfer find locally available “green” products to meet their project needs (online at

How Does SR BIG Relate to LEED?

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards were originally established for commercial and municipal buildings. LEED is an international rating mechanism that requires significantly more attention and inspections. LEED is in the process of developing standards for homes. Once those standards are complete, they will complement the SR BIG program. The upfront costs are typically much more for LEED than SR BIG.

Putting It in Perspective

Homes in California account for 31 percent of the state’s energy use. New homes built in California must meet Title 24 energy efficiency standards. SR BIG homes must exceed the Title 24 standards and get 1 point for every percentage point by which they exceed the required energy efficiency standards. An SR BIG home is at least 11 percent more energy efficient than a conventional new home and is commensurately less expensive to heat, cool and operate. That also means that the environmental impact of the home is reduced, which benefits everybody.

Water conservation is another area included in the SR BIG integrated approach. Choosing landscaping plants that are drought tolerant and installing high-efficiency irrigation systems can greatly reduce water use and create a beautiful space even during a drought. Highly efficient water devices inside the home are also important. Low-flow fixtures and Energy Star appliances are vital in saving water and reducing overall energy demands.

The initial cost of going green can be minimal, and the long-term savings can be significant. While there are many types and levels of green homes, research shows that for every $1 invested in a “green” home, a return of $10 is realized after the first year or two and thereafter for the life of the structure. Building green is building smart.

For more information, visit and click on the “Green Building” link. Santa Rosa’s Green Building Guidelines are available upon request, either in hard copy or electronically. Contact: Dell Tredinnick, project development manager, SR BIG; phone: (707) 543-4545; e-mail:

This article appears in the July 2006 issue of Western City
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