Builders Balking at Green Mandates

The National Association of Homebuilders says resource- and energy-efficient construction is on the rise in homebuilding, but the group warns that government-imposed green building mandates for residential construction are "good intentions gone awry. " In a recent press release, NAHB President David Pressly said green building needs to "stay voluntary to continue to allow for market innovation and to make sure that the additional money spent to build green goes to building improvements, not excessive fees. " Various states and municipalities, including Minneapolis, have adopted green building standards for their own projects, such as city halls and maintenance facilities. Elsewhere in the United States, similar mandates are spreading to private development.

Boston, for example, may soon require certain private developers to build according to standards developed by the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The requirement would apply to developments larger than 50,000 square feet. Washington, D.C., is considering a similar requirement, according to Emily English, NAHB's green building program manager. "There are quite a few mandates for public facilities," English said. "And now we are starting to see mandates - or proposals for mandates - for large-scale private construction. " English has concerns about such requirements, noting that "if you mandate a one-size-fits-all way to green building, that might not make sense for all situations," she said. Michael Noonan, a Toll Brothers official who sits on the executive committee of the Builders Association of the Twin Cities, said he's not aware of any such government mandates for private developments in Minnesota. He said, however, existing building codes in Minnesota are already "pretty far along in terms of green. " "We also have to be mindful that by making things mandatory, often there is an unintended set of consequences," Noonan said. "The price takes a hit, and then it becomes unaffordable ... and certain individuals are priced out of the market. " Meanwhile, voluntary green building is gaining popularity in residential construction. A recent report from McGraw Hill's Construction Research and Analytics Group estimated that up to 10 percent of new construction starts in 2010 will be green projects. In 2005, green building accounted for 2 percent of commercial and residential construction. NAHB says 12 of its local associations have launched "voluntary green building programs," and another 12 are in the process of doing so. Last fall, the Builders Association of the Twin Cities formed a green building working group to collaborate with the Green Building Institute on residential green building guidelines for Minnesota. "We are trying to look at what is appropriate for Minnesota, what is proven, what is good science, what is cost effective," Noonan said. "We are saying, 'Be sensitive to the local situation; don't go adopting green building standards being advanced by LEED. '" This year, NAHB is marking the second anniversary of its "Model Green Building Guidelines," which aim to "bring green building into the mainstream" and "demystify" the green building process. The NAHB guidelines offer ways to reduce resources and conserve energy use in residential construction with compact fluorescent bulbs, efficient appliances, natural landscaping, natural light, wind turbines, solar roof panels and other green building features. English said the guidelines are more flexible than the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards for residential construction. "Theirs is a one-size-fits-all for green building," English said. "It also requires pretty costly certification, and from our perspective, it's better that those dollars go into actual upgrades to the home. "

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