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September 29, 2016
Builders: Expect More Zero Net Energy Regulations
Bob Musinski
Bob Musinski

As marketers in the building products space, we’re always keeping an eye on key trends and industry advancements — especially around sustainability. So we connected with green building industry experts for insights in advance of Greenbuild 2016. This is the first of two blogs on the movement toward zero net energy.

California has made a bold statement with its requirements for zero net energy for new residential construction by 2020 and new commercial construction by 2030.

Home builders should be prepared for similar regulations in many other states over the next 10 years, according to experts who are presenting at the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center Oct. 5-7.

“I think the lag is 5 to 10 years for other states or governments to catch up,” said Frank Sherman, Philadelphia-based director of sustainability at Spiezle Architectural Group, Inc. “It takes at least that long for codes to catch up and be adopted at the state level.”

The zero net energy movement is on the rise nationwide.

Ann Edminster, principal at Design AVEnues LLC in California and an international expert on sustainable residential construction, also sees a lot happening in the next 10 years.

“I suspect it will be a hockey-stick adoption curve, pretty slow for 3 to 5 years and then picking up momentum as the rate of climate change increases and the impacts are felt by more people,” she said. “If we’re lucky, we’ll see legislative action in the majority of states within 10 years. I’d love to see that happen sooner, of course, but our political machines are pretty slow on climate issues.”

Big cities are leading the path towards sustainability.

Right now, some of the most important movement toward requiring sustainable building is in large cities such as New York and Vancouver, said Bronwyn Barry, director of One Sky Homes in San Francisco and known for her Passive House advocacy work.

“I’m not sure our specific policies will be duplicated in other states but I am seeing the magnetic pull that our policies are having on other states to head towards zero and near zero energy goals,” Barry said.

The New York and Vancouver regulations are not specific to net zero, but are designed to reach overall goals on carbon reduction for buildings. For example, New York’s effort announced last spring aims to reduce 80 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions from the city’s more than 1 million buildings by 2050.

Zero net energy is just one part of the bigger picture.

The New York carbon reduction plan shows that, for many, zero net energy regulations alone might not be the answer. A bigger-picture campaign is best.

“​I think we will see an evolution of regulations as the building industry develops greater understanding of the interdependencies between ​buildings achieving zero net energy and concomitant changes to utilities, rate structures, and community-scale renewable energy generation. This will lead to greater sophistication in how we approach regulation,” Edminster said.

“Ultimately, what we want is not so much ZNE buildings as carbon-neutral cities. Right now, ZNE buildings are the most readily comprehensible and achievable mechanism that regulation can tackle, but we are rapidly evolving beyond that.”

Look out for Part 2 on this topic, coming next week.