We offer the following recommendations in the hope that they will help step up the pace of high-performance building reconstruction in the U.S. and Canada. We consulted many experts for advice, but these recommendations are solely the responsibility of the editors of Building Design+Construction. We welcome your comments. Please send them to Robert Cassidy, Editorial Director: rcassidy@sgcmail.com.

May 11, 2012

4. States and local jurisdictions should devise ways to provide incentives for improving energy efficiency in buildings, such as reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) through reconstruction and retrofitting of existing buildings in urban areas.

As a gross simplification, cities use more energy for buildings than their surrounding suburbs, while suburbs use more energy for transportation than for buildings, according to the Center for Neighborhood Technology. State and local land-use planning should be directed at providing incentives for energy savings to owners of existing buildings in cities to encourage walkable neighborhoods and the use of public transit, thereby reducing vehicle miles traveled.

Further, as “The Greenest Building” notes, policy makers should also consider “the significant role that older buildings play in creating more character-rich and human-scale communities.”

Many states and cities lavish huge tax breaks on corporations to locate in their jurisdictions. A more economical and environmentally beneficial incentive would be to create financing mechanisms for existing businesses to stay in place and improve their energy efficiency. Landing a Fortune 500 corporation may grab headlines for a community in the short term, but achieving long-term energy and environmental improvements could prove to be more beneficial for that jurisdiction.

5. States and localities that do not have disclosure requirements on energy use in existing buildings should consider requiring such disclosure—and, where feasible, provide incentives for energy improvements.

More and more states and cities are requiring owners of commercial buildings to reveal the energy use of their properties at the time of a sale, lease, or financing. In New York City, the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan requires yearly Energy Star benchmarking and public disclosure for large commercial and multifamily buildings. California requires commercial buildings to disclose their Energy Star ratings to the California Energy Commission at the time of a sale, lease, or financing for the entire building. The state of Washington requires commercial buildings to disclose Energy Star ratings at the time of a sale, lease or financing. The city of Austin, Texas, requires similar disclosure for commercial buildings. (For a helpful listing of all such requirements, see: http://www.buildingrating.org/jurisdictions.)

These disclosure regulations give the buyer or lessee of commercial properties valuable information to weigh in the sale or lease transaction. But they also provide useful information to those seeking to expand the base of knowledge about existing buildings3 (As Rachel Scheu, LEED AP, of Chicago’s Center for Neighborhood Technology, has noted, “Understanding how our building stock uses energy is critical, and local context is important. Building stock characteristics, utility regulatory structures, and energy costs and use vary widely by geography. National datasets (e.g., CBECS) are valuable but too small. Large datasets such as New York’s provide tremendous benefits for policymakers and owners to set realistic and measurable energy-reduction goals and channel resources most cost-effectively”).

6. States, counties, and cities should rev up efforts to adopt green building codes that encourage high-performance reconstruction, including water-conservation measures.

It is estimated that there are still 70 million 3.5 gallons/flush toilets in the U.S., not to mention inefficient urinals, showers, and sinks.  Two years ago, the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials issued the IAPMO Green Plumbing and Mechanical Supplement (available for purchase at: http://iapmomembership.org/index.php?option=com_virtuemart&vmcchk=1&Itemid=3), which provides excellent guidance for jurisdictions to adopt water-conservation regulations.

The recently released International Green Construction Code (http://www.iccsafe.org/cs/IGCC/Pages/default.aspx) also offers a path for states and localities to implement energy- and water-saving measures. It is estimated that implementing either of these measures could reduce water use in buildings by 20% compared to current plumbing codes, saving millions of gallons of fresh water at one end and eliminating the need for treating the waste water at the other end4 (For more on water efficiency, see our 2009 White Paper, “Green Buildings + Water Performance,” at: http://www.bdcnetwork.com/2009-white-paper-green-buildings-water-performance).


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