Rise of the Regulations

I have committed to taking a room-by-room approach to my columns in 2010, but a new sustainability study from the American Institute of Architects includes some information I feel compelled to share right now. But before I get to the AIA information, I need to address a few things.

At the International Builders Show in Las Vegas in January, there was every indication that the green building movement is in full bloom, that it’s not slowing down, and that buyers are maturing in their ability to sniff out false claims.

Manufacturers had a remarkable offering of innovative products on display — from Ply Gem’s new labeling system to alert you to LEED point eligibility, to CertainTeed’s knockout reflective-roofing shingle line, to name just two. But I still run into guys who think green building is a bunch of hooey, and they can’t wait to go back to “building as it was.”

This reminds me of when my Great Uncle Daniel McCarthy — an industrial boilermaker from 1920 to 1975 — laughingly told me in the 1970s that he had some old timers on his crew who were nervous when welding first came in.

They were impatient to get back to rivets. In fact, I recently spoke at a lumber conference and met a couple of wholesalers who were doubtful that green building was for real. They were waiting for it to fade.

They hold this opinion despite the clear evidence: McGraw Hill Construction found that “green building has grown in spite of the market downturn.” MHC also states that “green seems to be one area of construction insulated by the downturn,” and MHC expects green building to grow over the next five years, despite negative market conditions, to be a $96 to $140 billion market. By 2013, MHC projects the residential green building market to be as much as 20 percent of new construction starts by value, which would equate to $70 billion in overall spend.

All of these facts and figures won’t even matter, given regulatory trends. According to the results of the American Institute of Architects’ report titled Local Leaders in Sustainability (http://www.aia.org/aiaucmp/groups/aia/documents/document/aiab081614.pdf), green building products and practices are now being required in building codes at local and regional levels. The local adoption of these codes and regs is nothing short of an upsurge, and that’s to say nothing of how green building standards like USGBC’s LEED and the National Green Building Standard (from NAHB) are being adopted.

The report found that:

  • There are 138 cities with green building programs, or more than 1 in 5 cities surveyed. This is a 50 percent increase in green building programs since 2007.
  • More than 53 million Americans live in cities with green building programs.
  • 24 of the 25 most-populated metropolitan regions in the United States are built around cities with green building policies.
  • More than 20 percent of U.S. cities with more than 50,000 residents have green building regulation and policies in place. When you look across all cities surveyed for the study, more than 20 percent have green building programs.

If you live out West, there are 56 green building programs in just six states. The Eastern region now claims 49 cities with green policies in place, which is a rise of 75 percent over 2007 numbers. A remarkable trend.

Furthermore, the National Green Building Standard provides green practices that can be applied to new homes, but it’s not limited to residential. The National Green Building Standard can be used for high-rise multifamily buildings, home remodeling and additions, and even hotels and motels. NAHB is certainly giving LEED a run for its money in the residential sector, by presenting a decidedly pro-builder/pro-contractor green-building standard to compete with LEED-H, and they might even pick up some business in commercial spaces where LEED had achieved dominance.

What’s over the horizon? Some laws passed by California end up being adopted nationally. The California Air Resources Board is always pushing the envelope with IAQ standards. CARB’s stringent Phase II formaldehyde emission standards will surely affect manufacturing of hardwood plywood, particleboard and medium-density fiberboard for years to come, and those effects will reach far beyond California. That’s because the EPA watches California’s standards, and under this administration the EPA is certainly capable of issuing a national wood products emission standard.

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