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Green building codes can trim energy

Marc Lefkowitz  |  11/14/07 @ 5:38pm

Topping the Northeast Ohio energy agenda could be the creation of 'green' building codes. With industry tightening down on energy consumption, energy-efficient building design is poised to make the largest impact on our energy use. Buildings account for nearly 50 percent of the nation's energy consumption, and the highest percentage of greenhouse gas emissions.

The critical step is making sure builders who want to do more are not held back, and have appropriate guidelines for making sure what they do does not violate the health and safety of the occupants or the community.

Most building codes adhere to a minimum standard for energy performance. Ohio now has a residential energy code requirement that is essentially a performance code, but it is "like a large anchor which builders hang on to as an excuse for not doing more," says local green building expert Jim LaRue. "On the other hand, there are more builders using the Energy Star rating system which is significantly higher than the state residential building code guidelines and is monitored by the Home Energy Ratings System (HERS). Yet, this does not go as far we would hope - (LaRue and partner Carlton Rush) first Green Built house had at least as much."

Inspiring examples of greening up building codes exist (mostly in Europe). Fingal County in Ireland recently passed legislation requiring all new buildings to draw 30 percent on renewable energy and to not consume more than 50 kWh/m2 (twice the standard of most homes), LaRue adds.

Voluntary high-performance building codes might work better in the United States, for now. Just like the popular U.S. Green Building Council's LEED green building rating system, green building codes can encourage developers and builders to exceed the minimum energy efficiency standards. But it may rely on offering incentives to do so.

Green marketing might be the greatest incentive so far. Green building is the hottest thing in the building industry. Mainstream publications like Contract are breathlessly covering LEED-certified Platinum buildings. Residential developers and realtors are starting to realize that, as energy costs rise, touting low energy bills can give them a competitive edge. The town homes in the Cleveland EcoVillage, for example, heat and cool for one-third the cost of conventional homes. On the commercial end, high-performance building systems have contributed to healthier indoor air which translates into fewer sick days and more productive workers, not too mention the energy savings.

The regional energy agenda ties in nicely with a discussion of green building codes here.

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