Ray Ng

Change can look like the enemy to a lot of people working within our industry, which is one reason we’re just now reaching levels of understanding and performance in the designs of our buildings and products that we could have achieved years ago. And although I regret this fact, I understand and accept it. After all, there’s enough risk embedded in this business when you operate within your comfort zone—why would anyone explore the outer limits without good reasons? Historically, these reasons have always been driven by increased market demand or new codes and standards, and we all know what’s happened to market demand over the past three-plus years.

But there’s been no such slow-down in the development and implementation of more rigorous green building certification criteria, deeper science-based scrutiny of product ingredients, and, yes, stronger codes and standards. These are the accelerating forces driving us forward now.

When California’s Energy Commission updated its Title 24 Energy Efficiency Standards in 2008, it was widely viewed as the nation’s most stringent energy code, setting a new standard for regulated performance and putting the state on its legislated path to net-zero energy by 2020 for residential construction.

Now, as an encore, California has updated Title 24 to include the nation’s first green building code called CalGreen 2010, which went into effect this past January. In addition to its stringent energy performance requirements, CalGreen includes mandatory provisions for water efficiency (20% improvements), construction waste management (50% diversion), and pollutant controls (including VOC limits for paints and coatings, adhesives, carpet, and resilient flooring, and formaldehyde limits for composite wood products). Higher levels of CalGreen compliance can be achieved by following voluntary measures based on more ambitious criteria in each category. But make no mistake, this is codified green building—documented, inspected, and tested. We’ll see if CalGreen starts a national trend.

But January was also big throughout the rest of the country, too, as the EPA released a beefed-up Version 3.0 of its Energy Star Qualified Homes requirements, sending shock waves throughout the network of green building rating systems, from the National Green Building Standard and LEED for Homes to EarthCraft, Environments for Living, and others. Virtually all of these programs refer to Energy Star as baseline requirements within some their own criteria, and while each rating system undergoes its own periodic update, everyone is looking at the impacts of more stringent Energy Star performance levels on their own programs. Watch for changes in the requirements to reach certification levels in all of these programs next year.

We can choose to see these changes as either friend or foe. Certainly they’ll demand more of us as professionals and present new challenges, new directions, and inevitably new problems for us to solve. But the good news is that much of the change we see is the result of our own successes, a raising of the bar. Change is not the enemy in this case. Because only a friend would present the kinds of opportunities for growth and success that we have before us now.