The California Building Standards Commission plans to adopt a new green building code effective Jan. 1, 2011. Being personally interested in building codes that directly impact my profession, I prudently perused the residential portion.
While most of us enjoy the local greenery, clean air and ocean, the proposed “green” code will do little to improve our environment, and much to drive low-income people from the area who would otherwise buy locally. A simple exercise will demonstrate why this is likely to happen.
Let us suppose that a basic home, on the bottom end of things, costs $120,000 for design, permits and construction. Under the green code additional engineering calculation must be performed showing reduced water use, costing $1,000. New operation and maintenance manuals, $2,500. Additional inspections to meet requirements, $4,000. Construction waste management plan, $1,500. Special carpets and padding, $1,000. Moisture inspection and barriers, $1,500. Specialized irrigation and fan controls, $1,000.
These items are just the beginning of what is to come. What about a new requirement by CalFire that all new homes must have fire sprinklers ($10,000)? One can easily see how prices rapidly balloon. The new cost of the home is $142.500, just a little increase of almost 20 percent.
Why should anyone care if it cost more to design and build homes? If people are concerned with housing costs, and it seems many are based on the flurry of low-income housing subsidies, then it is a simple step to the realization that new costly rules make housing less affordable.
There is no free lunch. One can not say build green at any expense. Someone must pay for the additional costs associated with “green” building standards. These new standards will have little impact on folks who already own homes or the wealthy. The burden will be most heavily borne by those at the bottom of the economic ladder who purchase entry-level housing.
But not all economical disadvantaged people buy houses; some rent. The same additional construction costs will be paid by the owner, who will quite naturally increase rent over its previous level accordingly.
Who exactly is the beneficiary? Are you willing to trade reduced environmental impacts, which are dubious at best, for higher housing prices? Are higher prices on housing for poor people really worth the trade?
Green may be good, but what are the real costs and who will pay them? Just wait until you hear about the commercial building portion of CalGreen! The new requirements for startup of all equipment, training, and detailed operation and maintenance manuals alone will easily add $10,000 to the simplest commercial projects.
What about new special parking places for “clean air vehicles” and bike lockers? We all recognize, and statistics show us, that people in Del Norte are already struggling, and well intentioned folks are trying to develop plans to attract new business. Is it wise to impose greater costs on our already depressed community? Will our local leaders accept these new mandates?
Del Norte County should reject the proposed new green building code simply on the basis that it will impose additional financial burdens on those least able to afford them, and discourage new business.
Jon Olson is a local resident who works in civil engineering.