As a practicing engineer, I see dozens of plan sets every year. What I can’t figure out is why they aren’t different today than they were 10-years ago. Where’s the green? If green is so great, then show me the green!

I’m not seeing it, and there’s a lot of ambiguity in the industry as to who is responsible for making projects green. Is it builders? Code officials? Engineers? Owners? Architects?

Here’s how I see it: Builders build from plans produced by architects. (For the sake of this article, let’s call anyone who draws a set of plans an architect.) Engineers add their input to the architect’s plan. But engineers do not draw house plans. Owners and code officials do not draw house plans either. If builders are to build green, they need a set of plans that tells them how, and in my way of thinking, that falls primarily to the architect.

But is it right to place the entire green movement on the shoulders of architects? Of course not. However, I believe they must lead the charge, and architects in my neck of the woods have not taken that lead.

The reason for this lies in simple economics: It doesn’t pay. To draw a green framing plan, for example, an architect has to:

  • Learn green framing. This involves not only the framing techniques themselves but also the underlying structural concepts.
  • Learn the latest version of the building code, which will also require the architect to know the wood code, steel code, masonry code, and concrete code, as they pertain to green. We’re talking significant time in learning and also money in purchasing those codes.
  • Draw new standard details. Getting an architect to draw one standard detail can be like force-feeding a colicky baby, due to how time-consuming and tedius it is. To really go green an architect would need to draw an entire new sheet of them.
  • Write new standard specifications.
  • Deal with skeptical code officials who disallow anything different from what’s been done for the past 50 years. I’m especially chagrined to include this bullet point, but it’s real and all-too-frequently rears its ugly head.

Those of us who are not architects should be asking how we can help.
I’ve tried to green-up plans, but my suggestions have largely fallen on deaf ears. Architects aren’t paid more for a green set of plans than for a non-green set. And it takes all the aforementioned effort to make the conversion. Most owners don’t know enough to insist on green framing, so they don’t make it a requirement.

Can builders insist on green plans? I think so. A progressive builder or developer should ask their architect for a statement of qualifications, with particular emphasis on green expertise and experience. If not up to snuff, find another architect. If the architect is in-house, get him or her trained. Sooner or later we will all have to bite the green bullet. Those of us who do it sooner will be ahead of the game.

Some construction elements (lateral design, for example) should be handled by engineers. Builders and architects who hire engineers must insist on progressive, green-thinking engineers. Those who are stuck in the old C.Y.A., over-design rut need to work for someone else.

The construction industry’s old, wasteful ways, like the rotary telephone, are done. Here’s a calling to all architects to wield that fork and insert deeply. With some firm nudging from the rest of us, it can happen.

Tim Garrison, of ConstructionCalc Software, Inc., is an author, professional engineer, and speaker who lives and works in Mount Vernon, Wash.