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Green Building News

Napa and Telluride: Tales of Green Building Code Adoption

A Bay Area town’s new rules reflect much of what will soon be imposed by California state building code; Telluride’s new green building requirements, meanwhile, irk some local contractors

For builders in and around the town of Napa, one of California’s principal wine-country destinations, the city’s recent adoption of more-stringent energy efficiency standards came no surprise. Napa’s 19-member Green Building Task Force consulted frequently with industry professionals as it hammered out the requirements, which in large part reflect the 2008 California Building Standards Code, whose provisions begin taking effect August 1.

But last week, when another west-of-the-Mississippi destination, Telluride, Colorado, adopted rules aimed at increasing the energy efficiency performance of new residential and commercial construction, a few in the building business expressed disappointment with the new rules. The Telluride Town Council approved an ordinance amending the town’s municipal code to require that new homes be built to meet or exceed Energy Star performance standards through a number of measures, including the installation of better-performing insulation and more-efficient systems for heating, cooling, ventilation, air filtration, and plumbing. For a single-family dwelling of 3,600 sq. ft. or more, a mechanical engineer must be hired to design the heating and ventilation system. Building fees were increased 20% to cover added administrative costs.

The cost of exterior heating

The code also includes a provision known as the Telluride Energy Mitigation Program, which requires that new homes equipped with snow-melting systems, heated garages, spas, or pools offset the energy use of those amenities by either installing a renewable-energy system or paying in-lieu fees, notes a June 25 story published by the Telluride Daily Planet.

“The energy mitigation program for exterior heating is meant to be an incentive to get people to produce onsite renewable energy for those systems. It’s not meant to be a fee-collecting program,” Kim Wheels, an energy specialist with The New Community Coalition, told the Planet. A nonprofit dedicated to improving sustainability practices in San Miguel County (Telluride is the county seat), TNCC helped draft the Telluride regulations, which also incorporate recommendations by the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission.

Different takes on code strictures

Industry professionals in the Bay Area and elsewhere in California have long experience with increasingly stringent regulations of the California State Building Code, otherwise known as Title 24, which was established in 1978 to address the state’s energy consumption. The revisions to Napa’s code – which are expected by some to increase construction costs by 5% to 10% but had been developed with significant industry input – didn’t generate significant resistance.

In a June 14 post by the Napa Valley Register, the city’s chief building official, Steve Jensen, explained that a 19-member group, the Green Building Task Force, spent a year developing the regulations and meeting with people in the building industry. Promoting “high-performance buildings” rather than touting broader notions of green building, Napa is the first city in Napa County to adopt such a code for residential and commercial buildings. All cites but one in nearby Sonoma County, meanwhile, have adopted similar measures.

Water use is addressed prominently in the Napa code, which requires a 20% water-use reduction over current standards for residential construction, 30% for commercial. Builders whose projects consume 15% less energy than the state standard will qualify for a 25% reduction in the cost of their building permit, although the city also is imposing a new fee that is 25% of the regular building permit fee to cover the city’s plan-review and construction-monitoring costs, the Register noted. Napa will use its own building inspectors to enforce the new standards instead of requiring buildings to be certified by outside rating agencies.

Counterarguments in Colorado

In Telluride, the city’s new building regulations stirred misgivings among a few people present as the Town Council prepared a final vote on the code. The owner of a hot-tub installation and maintenance company said that the energy savings expected from imposition of the new code could also be derived simply by banning heated sidewalks in the town, according to a story posted June 24 by the Telluride Watch. And a local builder, who called the regulations greenwashing, suggested that the local building industry hadn’t been adequately notified of meetings relevant to the code’s development.

But one of the councilmembers, David Oyster, countered that criticism. Because he is the council’s liaison to the Planning and Zoning Commission, he said, he attended at least seven code-development meetings, all scheduled during the evenings, that attracted little participation by builders. “The lack of interest in this whole process on the part of the people who are most affected by it is very curious to me,” said Oyster, shortly before the measure passed.

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