Friday, January 21, 2011

Should ‘green’ code be mandatory?

Ketchum City Council reviews new building regulations


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

Ketchum officials will have to decide whether to rely on a carrot or use a stick when it comes time to pass a green building code later this year. Will the new code be voluntary or mandatory?

A team of city officials, builders, architects and environmental advisers reported to the City Council on Tuesday with information that could help officials write and enforce a sustainable (or "green") building code.

Sustainable building codes typically call for energy-efficiency standards higher than those mandated by the federal and state governments. They are enacted to reduce emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, reduce pollution and conserve energy resources.

These codes require third-party verification of designs and completed buildings for energy efficiency, including blower tests to check for air leakage.

Architect Steve Kearns, a member of the sustainable building code team, said a recent survey of possible hotel developers in Ketchum showed they were "generally in favor" of a green building code because it would bring energy cost savings.

"We're already doing a lot of this stuff anyway," Kearns said. "If forced-air-duct testing is required, that's OK."

On Jan. 1, the city of Hailey enacted a voluntary sustainable building code, with efficiency standards 10 percent higher than national requirements. The city also passed a Build Better Program, which contains criteria to measure many design efficiencies left out of the international code, including water use and the amount of locally produced building materials.

Blaine County will review a similar code on Jan. 25.

The Ketchum team recommended the International Green Construction Code criteria for measuring commercial construction energy efficiencies and standards, and the National Green Building Certification for assessing residential projects.

Building more efficiently costs more, but money is saved through energy cost savings over time. Making the new code mandatory would enforce both, but city officials are considering whether it's necessary to force what some believe will happen anyway.

Associate Planner Rebecca Bundy said federal laws will require that buildings in the U.S. create as much energy as they consume by 2030, a measure of energy consumption known as "net neutrality." But that may not be soon enough for Ketchum officials.

"You and I have a financial incentive to build more efficiently," Councilman Baird Gourlay said. "A developer wants simply to build as cheaply as possible."

Craig Barry, executive director of the Ketchum-based Environmental Resource Center and a member of the sustainable building code team, said studies have shown that mandatory green building codes are more effective than voluntary ones. But Bob Crosby, government affairs officer for the Sawtooth Board of Realtors, disagreed, saying public opinion has changed since the studies were conducted.

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Crosby said 68 percent of people polled recently said energy efficiency was important in the design and construction of a building.

"Leave it to the market," he said.

Builder Brian Poster, who served for a year on a Blaine County committee formed to study green building codes, told the council that he found contradictory and confusing reports on building energy conservation practices.

Poster said the best way to improve energy conservation is through education and implementation of small household projects, like vacuuming out dryer vents.

Poster asked how many of the 40 people in the room had undertaken this project in their own homes. No hands were raised.

"People we talk to this year are more interested in energy conservation than at any time in the past, but this is bigger in the media than it is on the street," he said.

Bundy said she planned to have representatives of the International Code Council and the National Green Building Program come to Ketchum for a workshop sometime this spring to inform officials about the green building code process.

Mayor Randy Hall mentioned the slow pace of construction in the city (only two permits were issued last year).

"Time is on our side in this," he said. "This will be a lifetime process."

In other Ketchum news:

- The council approved a federal grant application for roundabouts at Warms Springs Road and Lewis Street and Warm Springs Road and Flowers Drive, and sidewalk construction from Lewis Street to state Highway 75. The city's cost for the project would be $131,000, or 7.3 percent of the total $1.78 million cost of the project.

- The city passed a 2009 code from the National Fire Protection Association that prohibits the sale of fireworks. Fireworks can be sold in Hailey and Bellevue.

Tony Evans: tevans@mtexpress.com

County code up for amendment

Blaine County is also considering amending its building code in an effort to go green. While the county is similarly required to adopt new state building codes, the commissioners will hold a public hearing to determine if they will implement more energy-efficient standards in new residential construction as well as remodels and renovations.

A meeting for public comment will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 25 at the Old County Courthouse in Hailey. Commissioner Angenie McCleary said she expects the public comment will last at least an hour, and that the board will carefully consider all comment in its deliberations.

Materials regarding the proposed energy code are available on the county website, http://www.blainecounty.org.




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