Almanac

News - July 27, 2011

Sprucing up green building standards

by Sandy Brundage

Revised standards for green building returned to the Menlo Park City Council on July 19, about a month after it asked staff to tweak the proposed ordinance. Seeming satisfied with the changes, the council members voted 4-0, with Mayor Rich Cline absent, to accept the ordinance's first reading, which is the initial step in implementing the new rules.

Part of a two-phase plan, the ordinance requires new construction currently subject to California's green building standards to exceed the state's required energy efficiency by 15 percent. Builders will need to test heating and cooling ducts for leaks and install cool roofs that meet certain standards for reflecting sunshine and releasing absorbed heat.

The process for using alternative materials for cool roofs on residential homes — the section that triggered the revision request last time — was fine-tuned, but still needs further work. The staff report states the new language "explicitly allows for the use of alternative materials or methods that can demonstrate an equivalent performance to the requirement without having to comply with the specific requirement. When an alternative material or method is being proposed, reports providing evidence of equivalency are required to be supplied by a source that the Building Official finds to be reliable and accurate."

Speaking before the council at the Tuesday night meeting, local architect Sam Sinott suggested implementing a list of exceptions rather than requiring what he described as a complicated process of alternative material or method submission. For example, he said, he found some asphalt roofs that would conform, but no wood shingle roofs, at least for now.

"My goal is to craft this amendment so it does not inadvertently outlaw wood roofs and it meets the goal of Councilmember Fergusson to establish Menlo Park as an energy conserving role model," Mr. Sinott said.

Supported by his colleagues, Councilman Peter Ohtaki asked staff to continue coordinating with Mr. Sinott and other architects to determine whether his suggestions were feasible, and report back by the second reading of the ordinance at an upcoming council meeting.

The state energy commission must approve the ordinance before the standards take effect, a process expected to take approximately three months once the council gives its final approval. The new rules fulfill a goal stated in the city's climate action plan to exceed the state's green building standards.

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