5 Things Holding Back Green Buildings

Green stop symbol

Sometimes it feels really good to complain, and there is just a bit to complain about when it comes to what’s holding back green construction. But all the complaining in the world won’t fix things; that’s why we’ve identified the five most frustrating parts of this aspect of the construction industry and how some states have dealt with them.

  • ICC 700 National Green Building Standard. This new standard is the first to earn the American National Standards Institute’s (Institute) approval. The Institute oversees protection standards across a wide range of industries so the approval is no small step forward for green building construction in the U.S. The National Green Building Standard is not mandatory; it is voluntary but its existence makes it easier for builders and homeowners who want to make green decisions during construction. The problem is that the standard does not neatly line up with local, county, and state building rules. Local rules that have not been updated for green technology stand in the way of expanding green buildings.
  • Complying with layers of regulation. In parts of the country, the layers of local regulations start with the homeowners’ association affiliated with a particular housing tract. Homeowners’ associations are not state governing bodies but they do have an impact on the way builders construct buildings in a particular housing development. Homeowners’ associations often have issues with solar panels ruining the look of buildings (too commercial) and with rainwater collection. In many instances, Homeowners’ Associations were developed decades ago, long before anyone thought about sustainability or green technologies. Residents often have to ask for an architectural review for any construction that deviates from the homeowners’ association architectural guidelines. Some states have passed laws prohibiting homeowners’ associations from blocking solar panels but they can still make it a tedious approval process.
  • Local zoning requirements. These local regulations affect everything from how far a building must set back from the street to building height restrictions and whether the zoning laws designate buildings solely for commercial or residential use. Where sustainability technology runs into zoning issues, it may take a review by the controlling entity, a request for a variance or a change to the zoning rules.
  • Building codes. These rules are generally set by the state and enforced by local government. Building codes set the minimum standards for construction elements, such as electricity (wiring standards), plumbing, gas, and mechanics. Unfortunately, building codes often contain standards that conflict with green building practices. For example, there often is no building code for green roofing. It is important to make sure that the roofing structure will support the weight of the green roofing material and the water that can be collected. As another example, alternative water collection methods such as rainwater harvesting often run afoul of building codes. Some states heavily regulate rainwater harvesting. For example, western states like Colorado have strict water rights laws and limit rainwater collection. Some prohibit it except in certain conditions. In April, 2016, Colorado passed a bill that will permit residents to collect two barrels of rainwater from rooftops of single family homes or multi-family units limited to four units. The new law limits combined storage to 110 gallons of water and permits residents to use the water for watering lawns and gardens. The new law takes effect in August, 2016. New Jersey also encourages water collection for the purpose of watering landscapes.
  • Challenges to green homes. Building codes also generally set out minimum ventilation requirements for residences. When homeowners super-insulate homes to save energy, the building envelope becomes too tight which restricts airflow. This effect interferes with the minimum amount of ventilation that building codes require. Less airflow sometimes means a less healthy interior environment. It can lead to mold formation if the building retains moisture as a result of the super-insulation. DELTA®-VENT SA, the fully adhered barrier is water-resistant and provides a vapor permeable air barrier for use in super-insulated buildings. That is also why it is important to involve professionals in determining any calculations that underpin a submission to the building department for building approval.

To read more about green building, read the article “Green Building and Construction” from Work Green.

Dörken delivers innovative, high-performance air and moisture barriers for commercial and residential construction sold under the DELTA® brand name. A North American manufacturer based out of Beamsville, Ontario, Dörken Products, Inc. is a subsidiary of Ewald Dörken AG, a leading European developer and manufacturer of waterproofing and drainage products sold worldwide. Dörken is known for delivering premium products while providing educational programs and full technical support. For more information, call 1-888-4DELTA4 (433-5824) or visit www.dorken.com.