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Code Green: focusing on better building now

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By Guy Patterson

RMOW Community Housing Planner

When it comes to green building in Whistler there is some good news and bad news, but the heat is on building better and that’s good.

Here is the good news: buildings account for about half of all the energy consumed in the United States, and also for 50 per cent of that country’s carbon dioxide emissions. Here in Whistler, buildings consume 60 per cent of our energy and are the source of 40 per cent of the community’s greenhouse gas emissions. Good news? Certainly. These data mean that we can combat climate change from the comfort of our homes, offices, restaurants, hotel rooms and nightclubs. In fact, we can combat climate change while improving the comfort of these spaces.

More good news: as we learn more about how much energy buildings consume, we also discover endless opportunities for improvement. For decades at least, building scientists, engineers, architects and amateurs have been developing myriad solutions to make our indoor lives better. Excepting an unfortunate 1970s trend in windows that could not be opened, when buildings are designed to use less energy, they invariably provide a more pleasant environment for occupants. The benefits of energy efficiency include fresh air, consistent temperatures and ample natural light.

Sadly, other trends can scuttle the promise of evolving and constantly improving energy efficiency techniques. For example, while North American families are getting smaller, their homes are expanding: home size per occupant has increased threefold since the 1950s. In resort communities like Whistler, homes are larger than the national average, and also tend to incorporate complex features that further increase materials and energy consumption. Results for non-residential buildings are similarly troubling; that is, despite our ninja-like abilities to design energy-saving structures and equipment, many buildings are getting bigger, more complex and as a result, more energy intensive.

Happily, change is in the air. The government of British Columbia recently acted in an uncharacteristically nimble fashion introducing changes to the provincial Building Code mandating specific energy and water efficiency measures in all new buildings. These changes bolster ongoing efforts in our own community to develop and disseminate a set of locally appropriate green building guidelines known as Whistler Green. In addition to energy and water efficiency targets more ambitious than those recently mandated by the province, Whistler Green addresses four other key building performance objectives: site works and landscaping, waste, materials and indoor environment.

Whistler Green is an important component in the RMOW’s multi-faceted approach to meeting Whistler2020’s description of success for the built environment. In a related decision, Whistler Council adopted a Green Building Policy which follows leading municipalities like San Francisco and Vancouver in establishing targets to improve the performance of all new construction and renovation projects. The policy requires development permit and rezoning applicants to complete a green building checklist describing all of the measures they will take to minimize site impacts, save energy, water and materials, reduce waste and improve indoor air quality. The RMOW also plans to develop a green building awards program, so that architects, builders and property owners can gain recognition not only for promising to build green, but for demonstrating, documenting and communicating their results.

We know that building construction and operation contribute to climate change, and that the constellation of scientific evidence, technical competence, public opinion and government regulation promises to make building green the new norm. Buildings are increasingly judged not just on their aesthetic or functional attributes, but on their capacity to minimize energy use and in some cases generate more energy than they actually require. How long before homeowners brag about reducing their kilowatt hours and using their home more efficiently rather than expecting accolades for installing a new hot tub or media room? Let’s hope not long.

Code Green has arrived, Whistler Green is trying to help our community lead the way beyond.

 

To KNOW MORE about other actions that are moving our community toward Whistler2020, to tell us how you’re contributing, or to find out how we’re performing visit www.whistler2020.ca .

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