Sustainably Speaking

Does U.S. need building efficiency regulations?

Last Friday I had the pleasure to meet with Don McLean, founder and managing director of Integrated Environmental Solutions, based in Glasgow, Scotland, providers of design solutions for low-energy high-performance buildings, offering a range of building performance analysis products and services. Besides giving me a thorough overview of the company offerings, such as software, training and consulting, we chatted about the different attitudes and mindsets of European countries and the U.S., regarding energy-efficient buildings and sustainability in general. Don brought up the following points:

- For some time now, there have been regulations in Europe, mandating that buildings are energy efficient. Here in the U.S. there are not many regulations, so building energy-efficient buildings is taking a while to catch on. However, thanks to LEED, there are more energy-efficient buildings in the U.S. now. Years from now it may be commonplace in the U.S. that all buildings, including renovations, are built to energy conserving standards, but it will take a while to get there.

- Government officials need to focus on energy policies. In the U.S. there are no mandatory federal building efficiency policies for the private sector, such as there are in Europe. Therefore, many industry professionals do not want to change the way they are constructing and renovating buildings. Since many industry professional are in their comfort zone, they continue to design and build as they have been for the past 10 to 15 years. They are not going above and beyond what needs to be done in order to design and build low-energy buildings. What needs to change is the country’s attitude regarding conserving energy and building energy-efficient buildings, and since many are not changing their old ways, regulations are a necessary step towards creating an energy-efficient mindset across the board.

California has mandated efficiency standards for new construction, and there are federal regulations requiring federal buildings to comply with efficiency standards. And some states have updated their energy efficiency codes. However, there is no federal program mandating efficient building practices for the private sector. So like Don, I believe that more needs to be done regarding building efficiency regulations in the country. Some states are slowly warming up to more efficiency standards, which shows we are headed in the right direction, but it would be helpful if regulations were put into place for the private sector. If regulations are already requiring federal buildings to comply with efficiency standards, then it’s just going to take some time until these regulations are applied to the private sector.

What you can do

HVAC technicians and plumbing installers, mechanical engineers, architects, designers, all these professionals have the opportunity to voice their opinion regarding policies to ensure buildings are constructed to be energy efficient.

Last month I saw, first hand, a number of trade professionals lobbying on federal policies in Washington D.C. at the PHCC – NA legislative conference. This was a refreshing and exciting experience, to walk the halls of Congress where policies are created and debated and watch a group of trade professionals come together to lobby on issues affecting their livelihoods. Click here to read more about the legislative conference.

Also in the July issue, I report on Phoenix’s Green Construction Code that is going into effect July 1. Even though this code is voluntary, it is a step in the right direction with changing attitudes about energy efficiency and sustainable building. In August 2010, the code development process began with a number of public meetings during the code adoption process in which proposed code amendments from interested parties and the public were accepted and reviewed. Click here to read more about this green construction code.

These are just two examples in which citizens are making a difference by becoming involved in policy issues whether it’s on a local or federal level. So, if you are so inclined to agree with Don, and believe there needs to be more done regarding building efficiency regulations in the U.S., write your congressperson, become involved in grassroots lobbying efforts, etc. The main thing is to get involved because it does and will make a difference in the long run.