Friday, February 11, 2011

Green building codes nothing new

Local governments could learn from other Western cities

Express Staff Writer

Affordable-housing complex Northwood Place, with its energy-efficient design, provides many examples of the construction standards that Ketchum is shooting for with its planned new building code. Express file photo

Ketchum and Blaine County would be a step above Idaho building standards if they follow through on plans to increase efficiency requirements for new construction. However, they'd merely be catching up to many Western towns and counties.

Aspen, Colo., started planning its higher construction standard in 1995. Others soon jumped on board. They include Longmont, Colo., population 86,000, and Clark County, Wash., which has 400,000 people and includes the city of Vancouver.

Despite the movement of local governments to ask for more than the minimum from its builders, they're not all of the same mind on whether to make the higher standards mandatory or voluntary.

Longmont Building Official Chris Allison convinced the town's City Council to enforce the new rules and not merely suggest them. He said Longmont's higher standards were enacted in September 2007 only for residential buildings, and he hasn't received any "heartburn" from complaining contractors.

Allison said he heard concerns before enacting the rules that he was "raising the bar too high."

"It's not the bar we're raising," he said. "We want to raise the floor a little bit. This is the minimum code. Let's keep that in mind."

Allison, a contractor for 20 years, said the city requires builders to meet the lowest level—Bronze—of the National Green Building Standard developed by the International Code Council, meaning it builds on previous standards also put together by the ICC and followed by most governments in the country.

"None of this is rocket science," he said. "It's pretty easy stuff that should be done anyway, such as no leaks in ducts and no gaps in insulation."

The National Green Building Standard doesn't require "green technologies" like solar panels but merely professional practices that go toward point quotas required in energy efficiency, water conservation, resource conservation, indoor environmental quality, site design, homeowner education and green business practices.

He said that once builders were educated, most realized they were already meeting the Bronze standard. However, the rules served the desired purpose of elevating the bottom tier of contractors.

Ketchum's Green Building Team, which will make a recommendation to the City Council for its new construction standard, is leaning toward the National Green Building Standard for residential for many of the same reasons that Longmont did. Team member and general contractor Steve Kearns said typical Ketchum contractor practices usually meet the standards' Silver level. The system goes Bronze, Silver, Gold and then Emerald at the highest rating, where a building must incorporate energy savings of 60 percent or more.

"The goal is to take Ketchum from behind the curve to slightly ahead of the curve, but not so much ahead that we quash construction," he said.

Which National Green Building Standard level the team will suggest remains to be seen, but Kearns suggested it be mandatory, as did team member Craig Barry, executive director of the nonprofit Environmental Resource Center. He helped in making Hailey's green building code, which is voluntary for the first year.

"My lesson there is we should've been a little bit bolder," he said, adding that mandatory is the way to go as long as it's not a huge leap from common practice.

Clark County, Wash., adopted a voluntary code in January 2010, according to program coordinator Mike Selig. He said the city would never pass a mandatory code in such a conservative community where contractors have such a strong influence.

"They hear 'green' and want to reject anything attached," he said.

Aspen had the same problem and solved it by replacing the word "green" with "efficiency" in the name of its mandatory code.

"How could they be against efficient buildings?" asked Aspen Building Official Stephen Kanipe, adding that nothing in the rules was substantially changed, just the name.

He said builders realized "green" didn't mean having to install new technology, but rather, for example, using a 40-year roof-covering material instead of a 20-year material.

In Clark County, Selig said, several contractors are meeting the National Green Building Standard even though it's not required, finding that it differentiates their homes from others.

"People are watching every dollar, every square foot and every cubic foot," he said. "It's kind of a perfect time for builders to change their practices."

King County, Wash., which includes Seattle, found that homes having an environmental certification of any kind sold for $71 more per square foot in 7 percent less time, according to a study by GreenWorks Realty, which used all the county's home sales from September 2007 through February 2010.

Selig said Clark County is letting the evolving market force contractors to change. Their voluntary program just provides some guidance.

"Green building means smart building," Selig said. "It means building a better house. It's not about saving whales or ice cubes in Antarctica but saving money."

Trevon Milliard:

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