Clark County adopts new green building standards

Voluntary program aims to guide builders, customers

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As building permits for single-family residential homes are trending up in Clark County, commissioners are wanting builders to think green.

But only if the builders (and their customers) want to think green.

On Tuesday, commissioners adopted the National Green Building Standard, a code for residential buildings written by the International Code Council and the National Home Builders Association.

The code will be voluntary for builders, who have been asking the county for a uniform set of green guidelines to appease customers seeking more efficient homes.

The code applies only in unincorporated Clark County and the smaller cities and towns; the city of Vancouver doesn’t have such a code.

The code spells out specific ideas for homes that are energy, water and resource efficient but offers a range of options, so it’s not an all-or-nothing plan. Homes have to accumulate a certain number of points to be certified green.

Just a few examples:

• Energy Star-rated appliances, windows, plus low-flow shower heads, faucets and toilets.

• A home design that makes good use of natural daylight, and homes made with renewable materials and recycled-content materials.

• Ventilation systems that cycle in fresh air and hot water recirculation systems.

Mike Selig, the county’s energy efficiency services coordinator, said Tuesday that the code can encourage builders to try new things. He said a study by Northwest-based Multiple Listing Service of green homes on the market in Portland and Seattle showed that green homes had a 5 percent to 12 percent higher value and spent up to 33 percent less time on the market than nongreen homes.

The adoption of the code was met with mixed reviews. Some don’t feel the county goes far enough to promote green building; others congratulated commissioners for being forward-thinking.

Patrick Sughrue, a Vancouver sustainable building adviser with Structures NW, told commissioners the code was “an absolute minimum for green building,” and that Clark County was “way behind the curve.”

He said he hopes commissioners consider making the code mandatory.

Under the code, a buyer would have to have independent verification to have the home certified as green.

Ryan Zygar of Tamarack Homes told commissioners he would like county building officials to verify features of a green home, such as air-tightness, when they do inspections so owners would have that documentation.

Zygar’s currently working on homes for the Building Industry Association’s annual Parade of Homes event in July.

Unlike the million-dollar homes of years past, this year’s theme of “Attainable Sustainable” acknowledges the recession and the fact customers want smaller, more efficient homes, Zygar said Monday at the Parade of Homes site in Ridgefield.

One of the homes, currently titled, “Prototype,” is approximately 1,800 square feet on a 6,500-square-foot lot. In the boom days, a builder would have squeezed a 3,200-square-foot home on the lot, Zygar said.

The home will have a hot water recirculation system, which provides instant hot water with the turn of the faucet, and an energy recovery ventilator, which brings in fresh air and cycles it through the home.

Zygar said the home will be priced at approximately $300,000, which hits the middle of the $200,000 to $400,000 range for the “Attainable Sustainable” homes.

The Parade of Homes isn’t the only residential building going on in the county, which saw permits drop way down in 2008 and 2009.

Jim Muir, the county’s chief building official, said building permits, which were being issued in 2004 and ’05 at rates as high as 236 a month (June ’05), have been trending up after a two-year slump. In March of this year, 103 permits were issued, much higher than the past two years but still lower than March ’07, when 139 permits were issued.

“Permits have been trending up over the last eight months,” Muir said. “It’s certainly not by any means a recovery,” he added.

Muir said the county could mandate green building, but prefers to educate consumers and let them have the option.

“We’d like (the code) to be a resource, and not a requirement,” Muir said.