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Green homes part of Whistler’s plan

Municipality looks to finalizing green construction standards



By Vivian Moreau

Installing driveway paving stones instead of pouring asphalt, gas fireplaces that don’t need pilot flames, and bamboo flooring instead of linoleum. Just three ideas on a checklist of 75 suggestions builders could consider when constructing new homes in Whistler, if council approves a new “green” set of building standards.

Five years in the making, Whistler Green, a set of voluntary building standards aimed at reducing energy consumption and waste and improving residential environments, may become mandatory in the next few years, says Whistler planner Guy Patterson. Whistler Green combines elements of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), an internationally recognized standard system for commercial and industrial development and elements of the federal energy saving program, R2000.

Although for the time being going green in construction is voluntary, Patterson said the province is reviewing its building code and will likely incorporate green ideas for the new code, expected to be released in 2010.

Patterson presented a detailed overview of Whistler Green to council at its March 5 meeting, suggesting a six-week public review period for the draft guidelines. Staff will distribute copies of the draft guidelines to building industry professionals and they will be available online to community members for feedback. In addition, there will be a public competition for a logo for the program.

Fitzsimmons Walk, a development being built at the town’s north end, is incorporating green building standards, as will the athletes’ village currently being designed for the south end.

Building standards that reduce the impact of buildings on the environment will result in decreased infrastructure costs for the municipality, Patterson said in an interview.

“Over time you’ll have less requirements for big storm water systems if all the homes are doing all they can to reduce runoff,” he said. “And there will be less requirement for potable water if people aren’t using water on irrigation or car washing or over-capacity toilets.”

Patterson said other towns and cities like Jasper, Banff, and Vancouver are incorporating green building standards.

Vancouver city planner Dave Ramslie said the city has its own building standards, separate from the B.C. building code and has already regulated green standards for city-owned buildings. He said the fact that one single-family home produces six dump truck loads of waste during construction is just one reason why the city also needs green building standards for house construction.

Unlike Whistler, Vancouver is trying to stay away from enforcing detailed standards so that developers and builders can consider innovative solutions.

“If you prescribe a certain technology like dual-flush toilets for instance you may be precluding the invention of a better toilet that outperforms a dual-flush toilet,” Ramslie said.

Fourteen green amendments to Vancouver’s building code will be introduced in the city over the next two years, Ramslie said. One example will be for Vancouver’s Olympic village. Heat generated from the village’s grocery store will be recovered and used to heat the housing being built above the store.

Implementing green standards can be pricey initially and may seem contradictory to Whistler’s resolve toward housing affordability that is outlined in Whistler 2020, a community vision plan, but Patterson said the standards ensure long-term savings for homeowners.

“Is a roof with a 50-year warranty more expensive than a roof with a 20-year warranty?” he asked. “Is a geothermal heat pump system more expensive than electric baseboard?” Yes, he said, but it makes sense to pay more upfront to ensure cost benefits over time.

Once Whistler Green has gone through final tweaking and is endorsed by council later this year, developers may then opt to certify projects that meet green standards that will appeal to increasing numbers of environmentally-aware potential home buyers.

“A lot of homeowners just feel better living in homes that are built to these standards,” Patterson said. “This is a building block in constructing a sustainable community.”

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