Green Building Codes In The Four Corners Region

A few years ago, as a real estate agent specializing in green homes, I was asked to be part of a steering committee to write a green building code for the town of Taos, New Mexico.

A group of contractors, solar installers, architects and designers met with a consulting company for several months to find out what the industry would benefit from. Hours of brainstorming sessions and fine-tuning details led to the High Performance Building Ordinance of 2009.

Taos was one of the first communities to add energy efficiency and green features to its building codes. This was cutting edge at the time. A HERS (Home Energy Rating System) score of 85 was now required on new homes of less than 3000 square feet. That number was to gradually decrease to 70 by 2012. This was a huge triumph for our community as well as an example for other forward thinking towns.

What does a HERS score mean?

The lower the number of a HERS score, the more efficient a building is. A model building is 100, so a score of 70 means that building is 30% more efficient than an exact building of traditional construction built to a minimal code.

HERS is achieved through efficient HVAC systems, windows, lighting and appliances, as well as site development, water conservation, insulation and the use of renewable energy. You can read about the energy audit and HERS score of 88 I received after remodeling my ranch house.

Santa Fe also has a Residential Green Building Code with various levels the way LEED is set up. A HERS score of 70 is required for homes under 3000 square feet.

Evolving green building codes in Four Corners region

Parts of Colorado are very progressive. Some communities, such as Boulder and Telluride, have written and passed green building codes. Boulder has a mandatory Green Points Program for commercial and residential properties. A HERS score of 70 is required for new homes up to 3000 square feet. A remodel must score 100, which is still 15% more efficient than the International Energy Construction Code (IECC).

Telluride also has a detailed residential green building code, but Denver only adheres to the IECC and the International Residential Code (IRC). That’s not bad, but communities need to be pushing the energy efficiency envelope and building beyond code.

Like the rest of the Four Corners states, there is no statewide green building code in Arizona. Individual communities, such as Phoenix, Mesa and Scottsdale, are writing their own. Tucson and Pima County have written a voluntary Net Zero Energy Code for new construction and remodels. Buildings will be certified after one year of operation. Too bad this is not a mandatory building code, but it’s a great start!

Utah lags behind in green building codes

Utah seems to lag way behind the rest of the other Four Corners states. There is no statewide green building code, and most communities are not writing their own. In 2005, it became law that all new and renovated public buildings must be at least LEED Silver certification, but that is not a mandatory building code covering all aspects of building.

The Park City Area Home Builders Association has created Build Green Utah, which is a voluntary rating system. This is not a building code, but is a precursor to mandatory green building.

Room for improvement with state green building codes

As you can see, we have a long way to go! Only with legislation and building codes are emissions going to be cut and resources conserved. The Taos High Performance Building Code has an opt-out clause, which most of us did not want. If a contractor chooses not to build to the code, they pay a fee instead. This does not help get green homes built! At least the money goes to the state weatherization program, but still, this was not a great idea for most of us.

Contractors squawk at the slight extra expense to build for energy efficiency, but they forget that green buildings are more in demand. By not building green, they aren’t competitive, and they lose a lot more than the 5% or so to add green features.

Green building codes should be mandatory in every municipality in the country, or overridden by a state or federal code.

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