Green Town, USA
Going green is growing in popularity among municipalities across the country. The U.S. Conference of Mayors recently embraced a green building policy agenda, including the adoption of key resolutions that are critical to the U.S. Green Building Council’s mission of transforming the design, construction and operations of buildings and communities.
And officials in Napa, Calif., recently adopted tougher environmental standards for the construction of new homes and commercial buildings.
It’s a trend that is sweeping the country, including Platte County, Mo., which was recently honored by the National Association of Home Builders with its Green Building Government Advocate of the Year award. The association honored the county at the 12th Annual NAHB National Green Building Conference in Raleigh, N.C.
“The dedication that the leaders of Platte have shown to sustainable, environmentally responsible home building is truly commendable,” says Eric Borsting, chair of the NAHB Green Building Subcommittee. “They realize and support the importance of helping builders in their community to make the right decision to incorporate green building practices whenever possible, making homes in their community more energy-efficient and earth-friendly for years to come.”
Green Kansas City suburb
Platte County is a rapidly growing region located north of Kansas City along the banks of the Missouri River. County officials set down the green building road two years ago when they formed a sub-committee of builders and government officials to study green building practices. In 2009, Platte County passed a Green Build Program ordinance, allowing for tiered building permit rebates for new home construction that meets certain green building requirements. In 2008 Platte County adopted the Platte Profile Master Plan, which includes the vision to be a healthy, sustainable community that values and protects its natural resources.
The Green Build Program is administered by the Platte County Planning and Zoning Department, and the department’s building inspectors determine total green points for each project. The four levels of certification (bronze, silver, gold and emerald) are determined by the home’s score on energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and reduction in use of natural resources.
So far, four new homes have been built following the Green Building Program requirements. Dan Erickson, director of planning and zoning for Platte County, says that he expects the program to catch on with more builders and homeowners in the future as the economy recovers, and that the regulations will eventually be extended to remodeling projects.
“We’ve had a lot of good feedback,” says Erickson. “The builders that have participated in the program have indicated that they want to participate again. Of course, building is pretty slow right now, but the program has been received very well.”
Under the program, new homes that qualify for the highest rating of emerald receive a 90 percent rebate on their building permit. The lowest certification of bronze results in a 50 percent rebate of the building permit. Typical building permits cost between $800 and $1,500, depending on the square footage of the home. The first home to qualify for a rebate under the plan achieved a gold rating, and a building permit rebate of close to $800. It’s important to note that Platte County is using its own certification system, not the USGBC’s LEED rating system.
“One thing we learned early-on is that there are extra costs associated with building green, and there needed to be incentives, and they needed to be substantial,” says Erickson. “The rebate on the building permit has definitely helped.”
Platte County also has a plaque made that acknowledges the home has been certified, and the news is published on its Facebook page and can be used as a marketing tool for both the builder and the homeowner.
“Counties are trying to do things in a more sustainable way, and this is an excellent way to get people to build greener homes that will be more cost effective for them to use in the years after they move into their home,” says Betty Knight, Platte County presiding commissioner.
Other green communities
The city of Napa, Calif., has initiated its high performance building regulations in order to ready the marketplace for the statewide standards that take effect next year. Napa’s requirements go into the books on Aug. 20, with the goal of decreasing water usage by 20 percent at the residential level and by 30 percent at commercial locations. In addition to water conservation, the new building code sets tough restrictions on materials and resources, site planning, energy efficiency, and environmental quality.
Napa also is linking the program to aggressive incentives for building permits. Steve Jensen, chief building official for Napa, says that builders whose projects consume 15 percent less energy than the state standard will receive a 25 percent discount on their building permit.
Michael Chandler, president of Chandler Design-Build in Mebane, N.C., says that Platte County, Napa and other areas of the country with their own green building standards are definitely ahead of the curve. However, he believes that green building practices will be the norm in the not-too-distant future.
“The building codes are going to go green, and that’s going to force all residential construction to go green,” says Chandler, who was the recipient of the NAHB’s prestigious Builder Advocate of the Year award at the Green Building Conference. “In many areas we are already there. There will still be room for green building and rating systems. Green building is going to be mandated. But there will still be a lot of room to get to net-zero and high performance homes within that new mandate."