Sunday, October 23, 2011

October AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap



The October AIA-Southwestern Oregon chapter meeting featured Mark Heizer of the State of Oregon Building Codes Division. Mark provided a comprehensive overview of the Oregon Reach Code, the latest evidence of Oregon’s nation-leading efforts to champion energy efficiency in the construction and operation of buildings.

Because I live and work in Oregon, I sometimes have to be reminded by outsiders about how far ahead of the curve we are compared with much of the nation when it comes to high performance building design. Our state can boast more LEED-certified buildings per capita than anywhere else. Designing with sustainable goals in mind is simply second nature to us now. We’re surprised when we encounter architects from other regions who continue to find buildings designed from a green perspective to be a novelty.

The fact is Oregon has been on the forefront of sustainability for many years. Visionary public policy has played a central role in this leadership. Oregon’s urban growth boundary legislation in the 1970s, carbon emissions limitations, and support for research and development of renewable energies are well-known examples. The most recent case in point is the Oregon State Legislature’s decision in 2009 to dramatically reduce energy consumption in buildings by directing the state Building Codes Division to implement the Oregon Reach Code.

The Reach Code (which became effective on July 1 of this year) is an optional set of criteria that reduces energy use in buildings well beyond the requirements of the state’s mandatory codes. The new code will act like a statewide alternate method: builders will have an optional "green" path and jurisdictions can be assured the state-of-the-art construction methods are sound.

Like its name implies, the Reach Code goes past current codes and provides an objective measurement of success for project teams who aspire to a higher standard. The Building Codes Division envisions continually ratcheting up the standard as the basic energy code becomes more stringent with every code renewal cycle. Preliminary modeling of the prescriptive path provisions of the Reach Code in their current form indicates a 15%-20% efficiency increase over the standard energy code. Ultimately, the BCD goal is set the Reach Code to achieve carbon-neutral, net-zero energy and water performance by 2030.

The Reach Code is an overlay on top of the existing Oregon Energy Efficiency Code and Oregon Structural Specialty Code; it does not supplant them. The commercial (non-residential) provisions of the code are based on the International Green Construction Code (IgCC) and incorporate measures from the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), ASHRAE 90.1-2010, and IAPMO’s Green Plumbing and Mechanical Code.

The optional standards will result in more energy efficient construction by:
  • Reducing the size of the equipment needed to heat and cool a building by providing flexible paths for optimizing the building envelope
  • Ensuring code-related systems, such as HVAC, operate as intended by requiring functional testing
  • Verifying building performance with blower door testing
  • Making it easier and cheaper to install a solar array in the future by requiring that the building is renewable-ready
  • Maximizing efficiency through a variety of strategies, such as high-efficacy lighting, passive design, post-occupancy commissioning, and vegetative roofs
  • Providing better information to building owners and managers on energy use after the building is occupied through sub-metering of key systems
Compliance with the Reach Code will typically occur by prescriptive means for smaller buildings (less than 50,000 s.f.). Larger, more complicated projects will most often necessitate following a “performance path” to demonstrate compliance, which would entail more extensive computer modeling and performance monitoring.

One of the benefits of the Reach Code may prove to be how it helps projects qualify for federal, state, and local incentives for energy conservation. Because the issuance of a permit under the Reach Code is validation of the measures necessary to achieve the prescribed level of performance, it may expedite approval or disbursement of grants or loans sooner than might otherwise have been possible. For commercial projects in particular, the ability to secure assured financing early may be the difference between implementing a cutting-edge, innovative design or moving forward with a project that merely complies with the standard energy code.

Oregon’s continued leadership in the green building sector is essential for the state to maintain its competitiveness in the world market. Oregon will profit from exporting this leadership while reducing the energy consumed by buildings, and developing local, more sustainable communities at home. The State of Oregon Building Codes Division has done its part by raising the bar for those who choose to reach for it.

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Mark Heizer’s Reach Code presentation to AIA-SWO was the first to any of the AIA chapters in the state. We’re honored that Mark chose to offer us the initial opportunity to learn about code in its definitive form.

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The October chapter meeting also featured brief presentations by Stuart Ramsing, Manager for the City of Eugene’s Building & Permit Services Division; Jenna Garmon, the City’s Green Building Analyst; and Eli Volem from the Earth Advantage Institute.

Stuart acknowledged that the increasing complexity of regulations and layers of bureaucracy is not abating. Part of this is a consequence of the City’s emphasis upon implementing its sustainability goals. In response, the City is working collaboratively with developers, builders, and architects toward a culture of “yes.” As part of this effort, Stuart described the new electronic documents review process the City hopes will expedite approvals and soon become standard operating procedure.

Jenna wants to render her position as Green Building Analyst obsolete: Her definition of success is to reach a point where green building is the norm. She described the City’s Guide2Green Program, which fosters sustainable waste prevention and green building in Eugene through education, technical assistance, and various incentives. For example, projects that achieve LEED or Earth Advantage certification are eligible for priority plan review and inspections, one-day permits, or system development charge reductions.

Eli spoke about the Energy Trust of Oregon’s Energy Performance Score (EPS) for new homes. The EPS provides a clear and quantitative way to compare a home's estimated energy use and costs. The lower the score, the better—with zero being the best. A low EPS identifies a home as energy efficient with a smaller carbon footprint and reduced utility costs. The EPS is directly analogous to the gas mileage ratings associated with cars.

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