Should green building practices become law? | SierraSun.com

Should green building practices become law?

Greyson Howard
Sierra Sun

Seth Lightcap/Sierra SunThe Squaw Valley Fire Department contracted green building consultants to help increase its energy efficiency. Annual utility costs at the station dropped by $10,000 with improvements.

With the update of Truckee’s development code under way, area building professionals are debating whether or not environmentally friendly building practices should be required or remain voluntary.

The town is updating its development code, which formalizes policy into enforceable ordinances, on the heels of the general plan update, which created a new set of policies. Some address green building practices, raising the question: Should that policy be translated into law?

In a public forum hosted at Truckee Town Hall Wednesday by the Contractors Association of Truckee Tahoe and the Sierra Green Building Association, proponents of mandatory standards and voluntary incentives presented their cases.

While participants at the well-attended meeting remained polite, sharp differences emerged.

“Climate change will affect Truckee, especially with projections of a reduction of 75 percent in snowpack in the next 50 years,” said Bob Johnston, an emeritus professor of environmental science and policy at UC Davis, and current chair of the Truckee Planning Commission.

Johnston said the general plan also supports mandatory green building by requiring development to meet community goals.

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“Who benefits from a strong mandate?” Johnston asked. “Developers and builders get a higher selling price, tenants get lower energy costs, owners get higher rents.”

On the fiscal side of the equation, using Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, standards, Johnston said the cost of a large project only goes up by 1 to 2 percent.

Stephen Witek, president of Sustainable Environment Engineered Design, emphasized the cost of not going green in a mountain environment.

Describing the Squaw Valley Fire Station, Witek said many of the systems meant to conserve energy were improperly designed or malfunctioning, costing the station thousands of dollars a year.

“They commissioned us at $20,000, but now they’ll be getting back $10,000 a year,” Witek said. “Using green building techniques, you are going to get your money back.”

Truckee’s unique environment does not allow for a one-size-fits-all standard, nor does the constantly changing field of green building lend itself to a hard-and-fast mandate, said Michael Bernard, a designer who owns MHD Studio.

“What is green today may not be green tomorrow,” Bernard said.

Mike Rodarte, a partner in The Rock Garden and TNT Materials, said the Truckee building trade already follows green practices, using techniques like covered entries, insulated foundations, passive solar and insulated windows.

“We cannot expect the town to know all; we should allow businesses to know their business,” Rodarte said.

Requirements for green building have often been political, rather than scientific, said Nevada County Supervisor Ted Owens, himself a contractor.

“The question is, do we need to make for more regulation and spending?” Owens said. “The council will have to make more decisions, which means more money spent, spending the town can ill-afford after the recent layoffs in the departments that would have to enforce this.”

Owens said the burgeoning green building industry is market-driven, and not the result of regulations.

“Going green is big industry; it’s demanded by the marketplace,” Owens said.