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Green Building

September 15, 2000

ESA listing pushes green building into the mainstream

  • Local building associations, partnering with local and state government, are offering help to people trying to sort through green building techniques and learn which ones provide the best bang for the buck.
  • By CAROL O'DAHL
    O’Brien & Co.

    Many builders, contractors, architects and other building professionals are understandably confused by the terms “sustainable” or “green” when applied to their craft. After all, they’ve been building and designing functional buildings for years. With the recent listing of local salmon runs under the Endangered Species Act, however, it is not really an option to ignore these terms any longer. Sustainable or "green" building techniques are linked to salmon habitat recovery and are now being promoted as one part of a complex response to the ESA listing.

    Bainbridge Island City Hall
    Cited as one of the country's top 10 green buildings by the American Institute of Architects for Earth Day 2000, Miller/Hull's design for the Bainbridge Island City Hall is a model of fish-friendly construction.

    Sorting through these green building techniques and learning which ones provide the best bang for the buck is not an easy task. Fortunately, local building associations, partnering with local and state government, are working to provide clear and practical answers to building professionals who want to be a part of the solution.

    The move toward “green” building practices actually began way before the ESA listing. In 1996 the Home Builders Association of Kitsap County began to put some of the answers together in their award-winning “green” building program, Build A Better Kitsap. For the first time, Washington home builders offered their customers assurance that their homes included energy-efficient, healthier and environmentally sensitive features. Many of these features reduce wood use, energy and water savings, and site protection, all important to the future of salmon runs. To date, nearly 100 of these "fish-friendly" homes have been certified by the program. The Kitsap program received awards at both the local and national level for its innovative, non-regulatory approach.

    This year, the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties is offering its own version of a “green” building program: Built Green. The program currently offers options for new single-family construction and by the end of the year will also offer remodeling, multi-family and development components.

    Both programs have a menu or checklist of sustainable building practices and products that reduce the effects of site work, construction activities and building operation on the indoor and natural environment. Emphasis is on cost-effective, practical solutions.

    Both programs were developed by building professionals and reviewed by local code officials. This cooperation ensures that the environmentally friendly options being promoted were doable and allowable.

    Builders, wanting to ensure success of these new green building programs, suggested that the building associations also offer practical education forums to compliment the “green” building techniques and practices included in the checklists.

    In response, the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties and the Home Builders Association of Kitsap County, are sponsoring a two-part series of workshops (fall and spring) in association with King County, Snohomish County and Kitsap County. Funding for the workshops is provided in part through the Puget Sound Water Quality Action Team's Public Involvement and Education Program. The workshops will offer construction industry professionals an opportunity to learn from industry leaders about the best practices for “fish-friendly construction.”

    The fall workshops will focus on wise wood use and energy conservation and will include technical sessions presented by nationally and locally recognized industry leaders on topics such as advanced framing, engineered wood products and certified wood use among others. An afternoon field trip will demonstrate the practices and products featured in the morning technical sessions. The workshops will be offered in Kitsap County on Nov. 14, in Snohomish County on Nov. 15, and in King County on Nov. 17. Call the Building Industry Association of Washington at (800) 228-4229 to register for the Kitsap workshop and MBA at (800) 522-2209 to register for the Snohomish or King county workshops.

    Workshop attendees will benefit by learning how to reduce their liability, increase their market edge, meet new earthquake codes while still building “green,” and work within the new guidelines for salmon protection.

    The new Bainbridge Island City Hall illustrates the power of these public/private partnerships. A visit to the City Hall will be the field trip for the Kitsap County workshop. Cited as one of the top 10 green buildings by the American Institute of Architects for Earth Day 2000, Bainbridge Island City Hall is a model of fish-friendly construction.

    Prominent features include the use of over 70,000 board feet of certified wood (wood from forests guaranteed by an independent third party to be produced using stringent principles that address both the social and economic impacts of harvesting wood). The building also uses many engineered-wood products – veneers made from fast-growing, small-diameter trees (instead of old-growth trees) fastened with adhesives to provide a product with improved strength and performance capabilities compared to virgin timber.

    The City Hall design also incorporates natural air circulation, daylighting and low-toxic finishes, which promote improved indoor air quality for employees and visitors.

    A notable example of sustainable residential construction is the Cunningham-O'Brien home on Bainbridge Island. The residence, which exceeds the Build A Better Kitsap program’s highest 3-star rating, features many fish-friendly options, including wood efficiency, energy conservation and site protection. For example, the home includes renewable bamboo flooring, countertops made with agricultural byproducts, engineered wood, and fiber cement siding and shingles.

    Advanced framing reduced wood use significantly and, by allowing extra insulation, the framing supplemented energy savings gained through energy efficient appliances and radiant floor heat. Other fish-friendly features were incorporated into this affordable home, yet resulted in only a 1 percent increase in overall cost.

    A second series of the Fish-Friendly Construction Workshops will focus on site and water issues and will be offered in the spring, tentatively scheduled for the end of April, 2001.


    Carol O’dahl is a project associate with O’Brien & Co., an environmental consulting firm on Bainbridge Island.


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