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Sustainability and Building Codes


Ms. Truly Green’s home has lots of green features but could be a huge challenge to permit.

Shallow frost-protected foundation, straw-bale walls, composting toilet, graywater system, rainwater harvesting . . . An impressive array of green building features! From the foundation to the roof, these are exemplary systems and materials. But there is another commonality to these features: each represents a potential—if not likely—regulatory challenge. It can be frustrating to have the knowledge and skills required for building green, yet lack the approvals to do it.

This article takes an in-depth look at the inherent but largely unrecognized relationship between sustainability and building codes, and efforts under way to change this relationship. It also presents a process for professionals to use in gaining approvals for alternative designs, systems, and materials within the existing regulatory framework. A sampling of code success stories demonstrates what is possible when this process is employed.

Though it is beyond the scope of this article, the issue of regulatory hurdles with green building is not restricted to buildings and building codes; a new approach is needed as well for the larger-scale issues of land development, zoning, and planning.

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