Friday, December 9, 2011

‘Green’ building code shaping up

Ketchum City Council may see draft ordinance in January

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum officials want more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly buildings, and they're hoping a sustainable-building code will achieve that end without being onerous or expensive to homeowners or builders.

On Monday, Ketchum Planning Associate Rebecca Bundy presented to the City Council ideas for a possible "green" building code for residential construction.

"We looked for a code that would be flexible," she said.

City staff is recommending adoption of an ordinance based on an existing standard, the National Green Building Standard.

"The new code should reflect Ketchum's status as a regional and national resort leader and should balance the City's environmental, economic and social needs," she stated in a staff report on the issue.

Under the proposal, buildings would have to have a certain number of energy-efficient and sustainable features. Builders could opt for a prescriptive path, in which the code spells out what needs to be done efficiency-wise, or the performance path, in which architects and builders can be creative with the home as long as the structures can pass a pressurization test, which measures energy loss.

"There's very little that's mandatory," Bundy said in an interview. "We're trying to minimize the cost and maximize the benefit to the contractor and homeowner."

The City Council at a 2010 retreat identified having a green-building code as a priority. City staff and a committee composed of local architects and builders have been discussing options, conducting public outreach and researching similar ordinances and standards in other jurisdictions, including Hailey and Blaine County. Both those entities have adopted a green building code.

As alternatives to a locally written code, Ketchum likely would accept verification by the National Association of Homebuilders for the National Green Building Standard or the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification.

Bundy said the city code would likely have a large educational component, informing people of the myriad options available in sustainable construction.

The National Association of Homebuilders offers an online tool to tally points, as well as how-to information.

"Going through that checklist opens your eyes to what you could do," she said. "It's interactive and informative and very, very helpful."

At the meeting, Councilman Larry Helzel said he opposes financial incentives for "green" building projects, but would support other incentives, such as "green taping," a phrase that refers to moving more sustainable projects to the front of the approval line, cutting through the "red tape."

"What you save the applicant in terms of time translates into a lot of money," he said.

Bundy said a city's ordinance could create a "culture shift" in the way a community views building design and construction, and would become progressively easier to do as businesses accommodate demand for related services and materials.

Staff will incorporate council comments into the draft before coming back to the council with the proposed ordinance, likely in late January.

Bundy said that when the ordinance is approved, staff would begin work on drafting a sustainable building code for commercial construction.

Rebecca Meany:

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