When you think of municipalities that have led the charge to implement green building standards for new homes and other buildings, Boulder, Colo.; Austin, Texas; and San Jose, Calif., are among those at the top of the list. But despite legacies of green building programs dating back a decade or more and mature markets of like-minded (and skilled) builders, these three communities still aren’t satisfied.
In March (and effective in May), the commissioners of Boulder County enacted the first green building mandate for all new homes built in the unincorporated areas of the county’s borders. Called BuildSmart, the ordinance comes on the heels of last year’s upgrade to Boulder city’s longstanding Green Points program. In addition to deconstruction and waste management standards for new and remodeling projects, the main focus is on energy efficiency. Depending on square footage, builders will be required to meet a minimum HERS (home energy rating system) total and prove energy performance of at least 15 percent better than current code minimum. “Because we’ll serve larger parcels and lower-density projects, we’ll also be able to address issues of orientation,” which the city’s standards practically cannot, says Michelle Krezek, a county staff planner.
In Austin, the unofficial birthplace of green building programs, city leaders are expected to enact a more robust minimum standard for new homes built in the downtown and an adjacent area. To gain a permit, homes and buildings must achieve a 2-star status (out of 5) from the Austin Energy Green Building program, up from a previous lone star–rating requirement. City officials and green building consultants say there should be no extra cost to gain the additional star, citing design solutions as opposed to mechanical or device-driven systems. Eventually, the new minimum standard will likely apply citywide.
City leaders in San Jose, meanwhile, are considering whether to extend a minimum LEED-Silver rating mandated in 2001 for most new public buildings to private projects, including housing. The local HBA is lobbying for a voluntary standard to maintain competition and business investment, but Mayor Chuck Reed and other leaders appear adamant that some minimum requirements are unavoidable. “Mandates are coming,” said Reed in a San Jose Mercury News report last fall. “We may be ahead of the curve in how we implement them.” Some city policymakers are wary of incentive-based plans, saying those in place have largely been ignored. A mandate on private projects, they say, would take the city’s greening policies a step further.
Learn more about markets featured in this article: San Jose, CA.