I was recently given the opportunity to interview Thomas Taylor and I jumped at the opportunity for two reasons. First, Taylor wrote the forward for the first green building book I ever purchased. Second, Taylor was involved with the Northland Pines High School project, which I have written about extensively. Taylor currently works for Alberici’s sustainable consulting service, Vertegy. This is part two of a fascinating two-part interview.
Chris: How do you feel about the push to develop green construction codes?
Thomas: As a general statement, I think green codes are a bad idea. There are several reasons why I feel this way.
- Codes have been put in place to protect health and safety. Green buildings do promote some level of health benefits, but it is really not life safety as much as quality of life. Making green building a code issue diminishes all things to the lowest common denominator.
- Construction firms typically see language in contract documents that state that all of their work will be done in accordance with all applicable codes and laws. A green building code would then force a contractor to build green in order to stay in compliance with the code, even if the contract documents did not contain such features. A contractor cannot use the excuse, “I followed the plans and specifications,” as a defense when it comes to code issues.
- Most municipalities across our nation are cash strapped. Enforcement of green codes would require a completely new skill set for code officials that currently does not exist. How are jurisdictions going to afford additional training and enforcement when they cannot keep up now? Poorly trained green code officials will only lead to more problems than solutions.
- I have reviewed many of the proposed green codes. The new proposed federal energy code states that a building owner cannot achieve the final occupancy permit stage until one year after beneficial occupancy of the building and that the building must demonstrate energy performance to code standard. What is a code official going to do if a building does not perform? Condemn the building? Evict the occupants? Fine the building owner? Lawmakers rush to push for green building codes before they think through the long-term implications.
- If you have ever tried to get a permit for a project, you know that it is often not an easy task. Can you imagine how much harder it would be if the code officials were also reviewing the plans and specifications for recycled content in building materials and the energy model results to see if the building systems were going to achieve predicted energy conservation?
Chris: How do you feel about various jurisdictions requiring LEED certification as an alternative to green codes?
Thomas: Using LEED certification as an alternative to green building codes is a valid choice. The municipalities that choose to go that route are at least placing the burden for review onto USGBC/GBCI instead of trying to do it themselves. If I had a preference, I would rather see communities use green building as an incentive instead of a mandate. Many municipalities will speed permitting or provide tax abatements for developers who are willing to go green voluntarily.
Chris: How have green building initiatives been received generally in the St. Louis area and the Midwest?
Thomas: The benefits of incentives are not restricted to the Midwest; anytime a developer can get an incentive, they like it.