New construction energy standards for Oregon went into effect July 1, 2014 and far exceed the building requirements of the last decade. The U.S. Green Building Council for LEED Certified Spaces ranks Oregon as sixth in the nation, behind other states like Illinois, Maryland and Virginia who have been at the forefront of sustainable building design and transforming communities for years. This update to the Oregon building code is a trend occurring in other states as well.
By all accounts, U.S. homeowners around the country feel these changes, which affect financial and environmental aspects of a newly constructed home. Adhering to the new standards will result in significantly lower energy consumption and water use, reducing the cost of those resources over the life of the home.
Oregon, like many states, has two codes which govern energy use in home construction. The first is the Oregon Residential Specialty Code (ORSC), which sets the minimum standard for construction and is modeled after the International Residential Code. In addition to the ORSC, the state has adopted the Oregon Reach Code based on the 2012 International Green Construction Code, which is voluntary like other green building programs such as Energy Star, LEED, NAHB Green, and ICC700.
Rick McAlexander, CEO of Associated Designs in Eugene, Oregon, is a thirty-five year veteran in the new home construction business and is an expert in building green homes. He believes it’s a smart investment to build an energy efficient home and he says the new codes are just another step toward progress for the whole industry.
“Every material used from the beginning to end should be reviewed for its impact on the environment. Lumber can be harvested from sustainable forest practices, windows can be of higher energy rating, paint can be VOC free, plumbing systems can use less water, and light bulbs can use less energy,” Rick said. “Even the land you build on can have a role to play in sustainability of the project, such as proximity to work or ability to harness the land, solar, wind or water as a resource for livability.”
There is no question that sustainable building practices have the attention of builders and buyers alike. While it has been a hot topic for decades, the new construction codes are finally catching up with building standards practiced by most responsible builders over the last few years.
“Probably the most important trend is simple awareness,” Rick said. “Homeowners are more educated than ever about green materials and construction practices. This helps pull the technology through the trades and into the home. Just five years ago maybe one in fifty potential design clients would ask about my knowledge of green building, and now it’s one in five.”
Building an energy efficient home doesn’t require sacrifices in design or styling. For example, this two-story Bungalow house plan, known as the Greenwood Plan 70-001, was created by Associated Designs for a suburban neighborhood or a retreat setting. The plan seamlessly integrates green building features designed to meet the Energy Star Benchmark Home Standards. Rick’s team of designers has deep experience in the trade and they consider every part of a house plan as integral to the overall goal of sustainability, from insulation to roofing, electrical systems to plumbing fixtures, windows and door materials, storm water management and landscaping, roof overhangs and passive solar orientation.
Every trade involved in building homes from the foundation to landscaping have tools, products and techniques available to ‘green up’ their role in the construction process. While many across the country are adept at using best practices to create a sustainable living environment, the industry nationwide is gaining in awareness and experience, with more contractors than ever coming on board.
“Every step, from recycling the foundation forms between jobs to using drought tolerant plants, adds up to a significant overall improvement of the home’s sustainability,” Rick added. “By focusing on the types of materials like fewer chemicals, locally sourced products, environmental stewardship of suppliers, and using green products on the inside and out, the environment will be safer and the global impact will be reduced.”
Whether the homeowner is in Oregon or Mississippi, they now have choices in building methods that have an impact on the whole planet. And, with states updating building codes that require more energy efficient construction the housing industry will continue to gain more experience in sustainable building practices, offering U.S. homeowners more opportunities than ever to go green.
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