HG: SustainAbility Column january 17, 2009

Housing starts are way down in Mesa County, but one area is flourishing: green building.
Several rating systems are gaining recognition locally in the wake of demand for sustainably designed, energy-efficient new homes and buildings.

Bob Lee, director of Mesa County building inspection, said the percentage of new buildings with Energy Star rating has gone up lately. He attributes some of the increase to Habitat for Humanity and Housing Resources building Energy Star homes.

Fritz Diether, president of Frostbusters & Coolth, is the driving force behind Grand Mesa Energy Star and can put numbers to the trend. Completed Energy Star homes in Mesa County increased five-fold from 2007 to 2008 with just nine homes completed in 2007 and 50 homes completed in 2008.

Diether said another 20 residences will be registered this month as Energy Star homes. The prospect for the rest of the year looks good, too.

“It is possible we may register as a many as 140 Energy Star homes in 2009, which could approach 20 percent of all homes built,” Diether said.

That 20 percent figure represents a magic number, the shared goal of Grand Mesa Energy Star, Xcel Energy and the Governor’s Energy Office.

Energy Star for Homes is the primary rating system used for new local residences. Energy Star is an arm of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. To earn the Energy Star label, a new home must be at least 15 percent more energy efficient than a home built to code.

Typically, all of the energy saving features make these homes 20 to 30 percent more efficient than standard homes.

Energy Star new homes are built with tight construction and ducts, effective insulation, efficient heating and cooling equipment, high performance windows and efficient products. An independent home energy rater conducts onsite inspections and testing to confirm the efficient performance of Energy Star homes.

Diether said Energy Star does offer optional features dealing with water conservation and lighting and will roll out an improved air quality package this spring.

Sam Williams, owner of local WB Builders, said if you are looking for more than just energy efficiency, Built Green Colorado has expanded criteria that take into account air quality and building with recycled or sustainably produced materials.

Built Green Colorado was introduced in 1995 as a voluntary, industry-driven program of the Home Builders Association of Metro Denver.

The Web site, builtgreen.org, states, “The purpose of Built Green Colorado is to encourage home builders to use technologies, products and practices that result in homes that are better built and better for the environment.”

Using a system of checklists, Built Green strives for reducing pollution, ensuring healthy indoor air, reducing water usage and preserving natural resources, while improving durability and reducing maintenance, in addition to energy efficiency.

According to Williams, Built Green is one of the leading rating programs in the country and is being used as a model for other states.

Diether is also a fan of Built Green Colorado. He said that since October 2008, an Energy Star rating is an entry-level requirement for the Built Green program.

Mainly used for commercial buildings, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification has been in the news because of LEED registration for Chipeta Elementary School and the new Mesa State College classroom building.

This complex rating system was designed by the U.S. Green Building Council and takes a holistic approach, viewing a building as a system instead of a conglomeration of parts.

LEED evaluates five green design categories: site sustainability, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources and indoor environmental quality. Credits are awarded in each of these areas resulting in a certification level of Certified, Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum.

Another player, The Green Business Initiative, is making an entrance into Grand Junction with a cooperative pilot project with Mesa State College.

According to its Web site, thegbi.org, the initiative has a mission “to accelerate the adoption of building practices that result in energy-efficient, healthier and environmentally sustainable buildings by promoting credible and practical green building approaches for residential and commercial construction.”

Kevin Stover, commercial program manager with the initiative, said Mesa State is in the process of signing up to use Green Globes, an interactive, Web-enabled tool, for tracking the upcoming expansion and renovation of Wubben Hall and the Science Center. The software includes an assessment protocol, rating system and suggestions for making buildings more environmentally friendly.

The Green Building Initiative is also providing a “green stipend” to pay for a student intern from the Mesa State Construction Technology certification program to work with Green Globes.

Adele Israel is a Grand Junction writer who has been involved in sustainability efforts for some 20 years. Have a question or column idea for Adele? E-mail her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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