Home Builders Association is seeing green

Faced with growing demand for environmentally-friendly new homes — and a more energy-conscious state building code that is set to take effect April 1 — members of the Jackson County Home Builders Association are creating their own Green Building Council to set standards and educate builders for the age of the smaller carbon footprint.

Sixteen local HBA members have joined a task force setting up the program here. They are awaiting green guidelines being developed by the state HBA that are based on a green program used by the Central Oregon Builders Association.

The local HBA may incorporate the state guidelines, modify them to fit local needs, or write their own codes over the next two months, says Mark Knouff, incoming president of the Jackson County HBA.

"We've had a tremendous response from builders here," says Knouff. "Every day it's growing. It's in all the marketing. You can't go anywhere without hearing about the carbon footprint. More and more people are signing up (for the council). We don't have space for them all in our conference room."

Spurring the "green revolution," as Knouff calls it, are changes to the state residential energy code, which mandate a tighter building envelope and require builders to pick at least one other energy-saving feature off a menu of nine choices.

The changes will mean more work and "won't be free, but will result in a little bit higher home price," says Knouff.

Many of the standards of the federal Energy Star program are being absorbed into state code and, "it's about time, it's great, it's appropriate," says regional Energy Star and Earth Advantage verifier Fred Gant.

"One of the exciting things (about the state code) is that it encourages more efficient heating systems and ensures lots of energy savings," says Gant. "I feel it's going to be controversial because some builders will feel the pinch — but Energy Star builders are doing it already."

The state energy code mandates a 15-percent increase in energy-efficiency, as recommended by studies of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, says Alan Seymour, code analyst for the state Dept. of Energy. The code is still being finalized and could change.

For the building envelope, the new building code mandates many changes, including R-30 underfloor insulation, R-38 vaulted ceiling insulation and high-efficiency lighting for 50 percent of fixtures. The lighting requirement can be met with compact fluorescent bulbs used in garages, utility rooms and external fixtures, says Seymour.

Builders must also pick one other energy efficiency option from a menu, including:

  • high-efficiency heating and air conditioning
  • high-efficiency ducts
  • high-efficiency building envelope (R-24 exterior walls, R-30 advanced framing vaulted ceilings, R-49 flat ceilings and U-0.32 windows and sliding glass doors)
  • zonal electric heat or ductless furnace heat pump and one other feature
  • high-efficiency windows, ceiling and lighting
  • high-efficiency windows, ceiling and water heating
  • high-efficiency water heating and lighting
  • solar photo-voltaic
  • solar water heating

During the transition to the new codes into 2009, builders may still get Energy Star training, recognition and financial incentives, says Seymour, adding, "It's a big leap forward and puts Oregon in the forefront of energy conservation."

The code will be cost-effective for consumers because they will get a return on their investment in reduced energy bills and value of the home, he says.

Knouff adds that the demand for green, energy-efficient homes is "starting to mushroom and get very strong. The public is demanding green building and we're here to keep the customer happy."

The national HBA is also working on green building guidelines, says Knouff, which could be integrated into the local program.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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