Green Building: Buyer Beware

November 21, 2011

~Important Considerations for Homeowners~

Most readers are aware of the current trend touting the benefits of green building products, materials, and construction methods. That said, does everyone fully understand what it means to build green? An acquaintance reminded me recently that building by its very nature is not green. If construction is going to occur, why not make the materials used as environmentally friendly as possible? As good intentioned as the concept is, and as popular as the idea is with the general public and with local and state regulators, many things need to be considered on the legal and technical side as the green building movement strides forward.

Readers may wonder what materials are environmentally more friendly and therefore green, as compared to those used historically?

What follows are some questions to ask, and issues to address when thinking about undertaking a green building project.

Is the material resource efficient? This may mean that it contains recycled content or is sourced naturally, renewably or locally. The manufacturing methods should also be resource efficient. The materials may be salvaged or refurbished. They may also be recyclable, in other words, they can expect to experience another life beyond that which might be considered the end of its useful life. The materials should be durable and may contain post-consumer content.

Is the material non-toxic? Natural materials usually don’t contain any toxic substances which would impact indoor air quality however reclaimed lumber may have remnants of lead based paint for instance. Some natural materials are in limited supply, so the material selected should come from sustainably-managed sources.

Is the material affordable? For obvious reasons, the upfront costs of the materials need to be cost-efficient. In addition, the long term costs must also be affordable. Questions to ask include, will the material last? What are the maintenance requirements? If it needs to be replaced, will it be disposed of in an environmentally responsible way?

Futhermore, are the materials and methods used proven to actually perform as expected? Will the new finish peel in one year or perform properly or do the solar panels actually save energy?

One of our clients purchased and installed solar panels on his roof which he was informed would be cost effective in reducing electric costs, however this homeowner did not realize any significant savings. Additionally, an example of a materials failure can be found with the use of a fiber cement board siding which is marketed as being more durable than traditional wood siding, but can peel once exposed to excessive weather and sunlight.

Is the regulatory uncertainty and novelty worth the effort, additional cost and time for the property owner or builder?

In fact, the amount of time required for approval of a green building can take longer and be more challenging than the time required for traditionally built structures. As the green construction field continues to expand, local agencies are challenged to keep pace, be familiar with the technologies and materials proposed, and make sure that the regulations governing construction are met. One acquaintance who built a green home, spent almost two years getting his project through the permitting process. The local regulatory agencies were unclear in many cases about the new technologies and how they fit into the present regulations, and required many additional reviews and supplemental documentation on an ongoing basis. For LEED buildings, there are guidelines which must be followed.

Next week we will look further into the issues of dealing with the performance of materials, as well as what to expect from local and state agencies when proposing the construction of a green building.

This article and was written by paralegal Carol L. Ritter, and by her employer, attorney Glen Van Dyke of the Van Dyke Law Group, which has offices in Truckee, Eldorado Hills, San Francisco and Las Vegas. Van Dyke has represented thousands of residential and commercial property owners and homeowners’ associations in the resolution of disputes over the construction of their homes or buildings. Property owners who have questions about possible legal issues concerning licensed contractors and designers in both California and Nevada can call 877-868-7013 for more information.

Media Coverage

Sierra Sun November 23, 2011

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