The harvest is in, cover crops are planted and bees are tucked in for the winter so I have time to focus again on this process of generating residential green building codes. Although I haven’t written in a while, I have continued conversations with conventional and green building contractors, plumbers, electricians, p.v. installers as well as green building advocates. No one thus far had read the National Association of Home Builders (N.A.H.B.) residential green building codes. Furthermore, when I spoke to the “green” contractors, they could see no benefit (but likewise no harm) to their business. They were pretty much able to build and install what their customers asked for without much impediment from government entities. Green advocates were enthusiastic about residential green building codes but usually about how they could influence conventional builders.
When I spoke to conventional building contractors, they were more familiar with “Energy Star” recommendations than the N.A.H.B. guidelines and could see no benefit to incorporating additional green building methods beyond what “Energy Star” certification requires. Their reason is that they could not recoup the extra costs that green building requires.
Madison County public officials have been vaguely interested in the idea of green codes especially if it could help sell new construction. Because Madison County is in an on-going housing slump, they were interested in green building as a niche market that gives some new houses a more marketable appeal.
Kentucky has a statewide uniform mandatory building code, a.k.a. “mini/maxi” code, that prevents local governments from adopting any regulations that exceed those required by the state. This means that the county could not adopt the N.A.H.B. residential green building codes as mandatory for new housing unless the state had approved them first.
It seems to me that without enthusiasm from Madison County conventional or green builders, encouraging green building guidelines in Madison County at this time could be counterproductive. Because of the vulnerable housing market, any perceived threat to the bottom line could build resentment from those who could best integrate more sustainable practices: the contractors.
Furthermore, Madison County is in the beginning stages of developing a culture of sustainability so sustainable practices are not yet seen as a common good like government supported clean drinking water or usable roads are. This disconnect between sustainability and the common good is evident in the recent ruling by the fiscal court to allow new building in a floodplain despite the county’s planning and building commission’s recommendation against it. Education is needed at all levels of county government as well as with citizens that sustainable development is not some passing utopian vision but a necessary change in thinking if this county is to prosper in the future. When this change comes about, residential green building codes will be a natural next step. But how does one change the culture?
In Berea, a culture of sustainability is on the rise. When the E.K.U. class presented their recommendations for sustainable planning for the area to the Berea City Council, most of the commissioners were well versed in the concepts they were proposing. In less than four days Berea Utilities customers voluntarily leased a 60 panel solar array in two panel increments to create a solar farm. I imagine the non-profit “Sustainable Berea” and Berea College’s sustainability mission are large influences on the city’s education on sustainability but the steps of how Berians changed their thinking could be more closely examined. With some encouragement, their momentum could spread throughout Madison County.