Oregon Reaches with New Code
Note: This article was originally published in the March 25 edition of the Oregon Daily Journal of Commerce
When it comes to cutting Oregon’s carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, building to the standard building code isn’t cutting it. That’s why the Oregon Building Codes Division this month will begin developing the Oregon Reach Code, an optional building code that directs contractors to construct buildings significantly more energy efficient than under the present code.
Adoption of the Reach Code was directed by Senate Bill 79 during the 2009 legislative session to help the state to meet the 2030 Challenge, which would make all new construction carbon neutral by 2030.
“Unlike other codes that we have which are mandatory, this is really trying to achieve higher levels of energy efficiency through a voluntary code,” said Andrea Fogue, legislative and green building services manager with the BCD. “It will also contain some incentive provisions to encourage this behavior.”
Andrea Simmons, energy policy development administrator for the Oregon Department of Energy, noted that the BCD is entering uncharted territory as it develops the Reach Code. Other states have considered adopting similar codes for increased energy efficiency, but none has done so. And the document that will guide the Reach Code, the International Green Construction Code, was just released this month.
“Most of our state codes are built on national models,” said Simmons, who worked with the Legislature on Senate Bill 79. “There’s nothing out there to model this on, so we’re really breaking ground here.”
In addition, the Reach Code has brought together a diverse group of stakeholders in industries the BCD hasn’t worked with much in the past, according to Aeron Teverbaugh, green building services policy analyst with the BCD.
“We’re really trying to work with architects and designers and our new energy stakeholders, which haven’t been a traditional stakeholder group,” Teverbaugh said. “Getting those varied interests to work within a statutory framework will be a challenge. But that’s not to say it can’t be done. A new code is always fraught with the unforeseen.”
Residential plans examiner Seda Collier of the city of Eugene was selected to serve on the Reach Code Advisory Committee because of her architecture background and familiarity with building codes. According to her, the current building code doesn’t keep up with innovations in energy efficiency.
“Everyone knows the system that is in place right now really well,” Collier said. “Typically those codes have been following behind innovation. Hopefully with the Reach Code, we can catch up a bit. But you’ll always have a barrier of unfamiliarity.”
Unfamiliarity concerns Reach Code Advisory Committee member Tom Payne, owner of Craftsman Homes Group LLC and member of the Oregon Home Builders Association. He said he volunteered to join the committee to make sure any new procedures or products used in the Reach Code would be affordable, as well as safe.
“Just because it’s new doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good,” Payne said. “With this code, I’m trying to think about the building as a whole and if the technologies we’re using are robust and durable. There’s a natural skepticism by builders to adopt new technologies that are different because of the cost of changing them if they turn out not to work.”
Payne cited Exterior Insulation Finishing Systems, a technology that took off in the 1970s because of its energy efficiency. The systems, which combine exterior walls with an insulated finished surface and waterproofing, became the subject of national controversy after improperly installed systems began to leak water.
“We have a huge opportunity to educate the public and contractors,” Payne said. “But first we need to take the time to figure out what the bugs are.”
Simmons said the Reach Code will be a boon to contractors seeking greater energy efficiency in their buildings. Presently, a contractor must navigate through many processes to use innovations, such as Structural Insulated Panels, in their buildings.
“(With the Reach Code) … when contractors want to build that way, they (will) have a streamlined permitting process instead of going through appeal processes,” Simmons said. “For contractors, time is money, so this will be a huge advantage for them.”
Payne said if the Reach Code is developed properly, it will give builders the added incentive of competitive advantage.
“There’s a benefit to including items in a home before they are required by the code,” Payne said. “If you can incorporate design features that clients desire, like rain screens, then your house will have a greater value and be more competitive.”
The Reach Code Advisory Committee also will explore which current or new state incentives could be used to ensure builders are rewarded for using the optional code.
The Reach Code could be adopted as the state’s main building code in the future, Simmons added.
A draft of the Reach Code will be presented to a BCD advisory board by Fall 2010, with adoption anticipated for April 1, 2011.