Green laws sprouting up across valley
Vail CO, Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY ” Building codes used to be a world of fire hazards and plumbing.
Now, phrases like “solar power”, “low-flow toilets” and “recycled wood” are creeping into code books, and those environmentally friendly terms are just as important if you want to build a house in some towns.
As global warming is pushed to the forefront of American anxiety, some communities are encouraging and even requiring builders to meet long lists of “green” standards to lower the environmental impact.
Local governments in Eagle County are figuring out where their place is in the big green building push, and it’s a difficult debate. How do you fairly regulate being green, if you should regulate it at all?
Do you make green building a requirement, like the county has done with its ecoBuild program? Do you offer incentives like discounted building permits instead, like the town of Eagle is considering? Or, do you just let it be?
After all, many of the biggest developments, like the Westin Riverfront Village and the proposed Ever Vail project, are going green anyway.
Cost vs. benefit
With the threat of melting ice caps looming over our heads, local builder Jim Guida doesn’t mind the government telling him how environmentally friendly his homes should be. Rules, in this case, would benefit mankind, he said.
“If we left it to each of us individually to help as we see fit, we are doomed,” Guida said.
He’s gotten used to meeting the ecoBuild requirements and says the tough thing is still meeting the much larger book of building codes that have been giving builders a hard time for a much longer time. For the most part, he hasn’t heard too much grumbling about the new green requirements.
Then we have Steve Isom, a planner who would rather be encouraged than forced to build green. He sees requirements as damaging to affordable housing in the valley and inflicting more up-front cost than some people can afford.
“You can meet the requirements, but you’ll spend the money to do it,” Isom said.
A few clients wanting to build affordable housing have approached Isom with projects but backed off when they realized the extra money they’d have to invest to meet the county’s ecoBuild standards. They’ve instead gone to look at building in Rifle and New Castle, he said.
A better building
Currently, Eagle County’s ecoBuild is the most elaborate green building program locally.
Facts about your home:
– Older toilets use 3.7-7 gallons per flush.
– Dishwashers use eight to 14 gallons of water per cycle.
– Top-loading washers use 45 gallons of water a load.
– A dripping faucet waste 15-21 gallons per day.
– U.S. water users withdraw enough water to fill a line of Olympic-size swimming pools reaching around the world every day (about 300 billion gallons).
– Although our planet is 71 percent water, humans depend on a mere .65 percent of the water for survival ” much of which is polluted.
– An estimated 7 million Americans are made sick annually by contaminated tap water; in some rare cases this results in death.
– The World Health Organization reports that indoor air pollution causes 14 times more deaths than outdoor air pollution (2.8 million lives).
– 20 percent of all housing in the U.S. has too much lead dust or chippings (causes kidney and red blood cell damage, impairs mental and physical development, may increase high blood pressure).
– Although the U.S. is home to only 4.5 percent of the global population, it is responsible for over 15 percent of the world’s consumption of wood.
” From Greenbuilding.com
It requires builders to rack up a certain number of points off of a long checklist of green building measures that focus on increasing energy efficiency, saving water, using recycled materials and improving indoor air quality.
This could mean building close to a bus stop, using beetle-killed pine tree wood and installing low-flow shower heads, high efficiency boilers and radon mitigation systems.
“Why not make buildings that will last longer, use less materials and create interiors that have less risk of creating a problem for its inhabitants?” said Adam Palmer, the county’s green building specialist. “It’s realizing that construction has community impacts, not just for the occupants, but environmental and long-term impacts as well.”
Future developments in Avon’s West Town Center will be required to be certified through the well-known program Leaders in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED. Avon leaders believe that it’s not only good for the environment, but future developers will even see being LEED-certified as a marketing tool.
“A lot of progressive developers, it becomes a marketing tool for them ” they want to be the development that’s LEED certified,” said Eric Heidemann, community development director.
Vail definitely wants to develop a green building program ” it just doesn’t know what it will look like yet.
The town has hired a consultant to analyze all the different programs out there and help the council decide how tough the program should be, said Bill Carlson, the environmental health officer.
“We want to start slow, start with something not as complex and with reasonable costs,” Carlson said. “It’s part of our mission and our values ” to be good stewards of the environment.”
The town of Eagle wants to jump on as well ” it’s just waiting for the National Association of Home Builders to release its “National Green Building Standard,” which should be finished this year, said building official Bob Kohrmann.
“There are too many options out there, so we want to take this standard and run with it,” Kohrmann said.
When a green building code is implemented some day, Kohrmann would rather use incentives as opposed to requiring builders to be green.
“I don’t want to add construction costs that people can’t afford,” Kohrmann said.
Staff writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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